The new school year started Monday in McDuffie County with teachers returning to their classrooms to prepare for the return of students, and every department was busy implementing new changes.
"We've got a great bunch of folks here in this school system, and I couldn't be more pleased," Superintendent Mark Petersen said.
The obvious change every year is new faces in the faculty and staff. Human Resource Director Roger Williams said there are 52 new employees, with 39 of them being teachers. The new teachers attended an orientation last week at McDuffie Place and Thomson High School.
Another change this year will require ... well, more change, from the parents' pockets. At their regular July meeting, the school board approved an increase in lunch prices across the school system. Elementary lunches will increase 20 cents, middle and high school, as well as adult meals, will increase 25 cents and adult salads will increase $1. Reduced lunches will not be affected by the increase.
"We have to increase prices so the red ink will not be red any longer," said Assistant Superintendent Jim Franklin.
Another price increase has gone into effect for seasonal and reserved football tickets. Thomson High Principal Rudy Falana said those tickets have gone up $15. But the increase in price comes with an increase in games. Mr. Falana said there are six home games this year. The principal said single tickets remain at $6, but that is not set in stone.
"What we are doing now, is we are in the process of calling everyone else in our region to see what they're charging for single tickets," he said.
Football fans will appreciate the growth in the size of the concession stand at the Brickyard. A new serving window was added during the summer. The additional space also created room for more toilets and sinks in the womens' restroom.
And a higher-valued car is being offered in this year's "Where there's a wheel, there's a way" program at the high school. In its inauguration last year, Sophomore Chris Bowick won a 2003 Pontiac Grand Am donated by Stokes Hodges. Through the program, students are awarded tickets for academics, behavior, attendance, attitude and participation in extra-curricular activities through out the year. At the end of the year, a drawing is held from the tickets. This year, Stokes Hodges donated a 2002 Ford Mustang GT.
"They got us one that is better than last year ... and I think the kids will really like the bling," Dr. Petersen said. "I'm pretty excited about it."
Some elementary students will change the location of their classes with the reorganization of grades between Thomson Elementary and Maxwell Elementary. Maxwell will house the foundational grades of pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade. Thomson Elementary will house all second and third graders. Dearing Elementary students will not be affected by the reorganization.
Teachers and staff of both schools and the school maintenance departments worked through the summer to move classrooms and modular units between the schools.
"The physical moving of furniture and materials went extremely well," said Thomson Elementary Principal Anita Cummings. "All the fears of things that could have gone wrong, well they didn't. So, it has gone absolutely wonderful. ... I'd like to give special recognition to our maintenance and custodial staff for getting all the labeled boxes in their proper places."
The media centers of both schools also underwent a change by swapping books to accommodate the grade levels of the students. Maxwell Elementary Media Specialist Eileen Moss said their whole system was reorganized with students books being moved to lower shelves and teachers' materials on the upper shelves. Ms. Moss said the reorganization required four new double-sided shelves in her media center.
"Our maintenance staff did a wonderful job," she said. "They were Johnny-on-the-spot. ... and the newly painted shelves really brightened it up in here."
The curriculum and instruction department also was improved over the summer. CrossRoads Learning Center now has a new computer lab with 20 new computers, new printer, tables and chairs.
"New everything," Assistant Superintendent Barry O'Neill said. "It's the best up-to-date computer lab in the county. ... We just want to make sure that the students who are at CrossRoads are getting an equivalent exposure to the curriculum as the middle school and high school are."
Other additions include automatic electronic defibrillators in every school for safety at sporting events, new math textbooks in kindergarten through eighth grade, a new graduation coach at the middle school to compliment the one at CrossRoads and the high school, upgrading of Automated Learning Systems software throughout the system and the implementation of Thinking Maps. Thinking Maps is a program to assist students in the thinking process and problem solving.
"And the research really shows that it is a simple but powerful tool that helps so many kids be able to understand concepts better," Dr. O'Neill said. "So whether they are a kindergartener or a senior, they will be using it every year for the rest of their life."