Wednesday marked the first full week school has been in session and Elmore County’s school superintendent says things have gone smoothly but for the usual hiccups of a new school year, like long traffic lines at elementary schools.
But Elmore County Schools Superintendent Richard Dennis said with the implementation of a new traffic pattern at Wetumpka Elementary School, for example, issues like those would soon be remedied.
Those things were essentially par for the course of a new school year, Dennis said, and this new school year is also the first full school year for the current school board and Dennis as superintendent.
Rearranged in elections late last year, the Elmore County Board of Education is entering the school year with a new chairman, Micheal Morgan, and new board member, Leisa Finley.
Dennis is not new, however, to Elmore County Schools, having served in a number of administrative roles at different schools prior to his election as superintendent in what he said was a 22-year career.
“This is my first (year) in a position other than principal and/or teacher so, yeah, this has been a different start for me,” said Dennis.
But, he said feedback from his administrators was that things had been going nicely so far, despite the incidences of “very heavy traffic flows” around the elementary schools.
“Coosada and Wetumpka Elementary have very heavy traffic on the first few days of school,” Dennis said. “We hope to get that settled down. Wetumpka Elementary is probably going to be the one that settles down the most, because we got a new traffic pattern that we think will take care of the traffic there.”
Last week, state school officials visited Elmore County on the first day of school and Dennis accompanied them on their tour.
He talked about the visit, and what was first on his agenda for the school year underway.
Some things that came out of reports of the meeting related to population numbers, some said to be record numbers for the school system.
Though he said there were more students at some schools than recent years, the numbers were not records yet, especially given they would not know totals until September when federal records for funding are taken.
But right now he said there were roughly 11,000 students enrolled in the county’s schools, and a few schools have shown “significant increase” in student population.
Among those, Dennis said, were Wetumpka High School at roughly 1,176 and Holtville Middle School.
He said that essentially puts those schools at capacity, and he talked about what that increase might mean about the school’s community.
“What our study has shown, is that the Wetumpka area – specifically the feeder pattern out of Redland – is growing or showing the greatest increase, Wetumpka itself is showing increase and then the Holtville area is showing an increase,” said Dennis.
However, he said the inverse of that growth, the system not only growing least but actually contracting was in Eclectic.
“Eclectic is actually declining number wise,” Dennis said. “It’s got a reduced, significantly lower number of students. The students they get stay with them the whole time but they’ve just got fewer and fewer entering into kindergarten and that program, that would be probably where we see the greatest decline.”
He said it had been a slow reduction over the years, while he said the Millbrook system is maintaining its population, neither growing or reducing significantly in number.
Dennis also talked about the new bus fleet.
“Everybody’s excited about it and it is nice to have all of those features that are a part of those buses –
voice amplification system for driver, more cameras than previous for documentation purposes and the newness reducing maintenance,” Dennis said.
As for new policies and programs, he said there were a few like the move to a new form of standardized testing, new virtual schooling options and social media efforts the schools had underway.
One pertaining to new discipline measures was the move away from suspensions.
“Students are not going to be suspended for discipline purposes,” Dennis said. “Each school has an in-school suspension program and the alternative program has been changed to include a short-term placement from 3 to 5 to ten days.”
However, he said they were trying to reach new levels of vigilance in what seemed like a never ending battle to monitor students use of social media.
“The whole thing there, the social media drama that continues to unfold, I don’t think that’s going to go away,” Dennis said. “It could be a clown one year, it’s going to be something else this year. It’s an easy way to create and instigate panic with a large number of students or people in general in your community.”
Because of that he said a revised set of policies was created and faculty had been trained on social media issues.