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First day of school is 'smooth'; new Norris Elementary opens

Although it's touted as an exciting yet stressful event, the first day of school in McDuffie County was uneventful.

"I couldn't ask for it to have been any smoother, especially with the transition into the new school locations," McDuffie County School Superintendent Jim LeBrun said. "The only complaint I've heard has been traffic. But, traffic will subside."

Maybe it was the extra days to prepare. The first day of school in McDuffie County was last Thursday -- 12 days later than last year. The later start was due to the school board's decision to save money by shortening the school year calendar to 170 days. Instructional time won't be lost because an extra 15-20 minutes was added to each school day.

Mr. LeBrun said waiting to start "was a smart move," because hopefully they won't have as long to deal with heat related incidents.

Sixth through eighth graders are housed at Thomson-McDuffie Middle School on White Oak Road this year. The junior high school previously located there was dissolved and the grades reorganized. Ninth graders moved back to Thomson High School.

Fourth- and fifth-graders this year attend classes at Norris Elementary School, which is housed in the old middle school building on Main Street. On the first day, teachers at NES wore pink t-shirts imprinted with a street sign that said "Norris on Main."

"(We) got tired of saying 'old Norris' and 'new Norris,' so just for this year we adopted 'Norris on Main,'" Principal Laura Hughes explained.

Although the facility on Main Street served as a high school for many years, and later a middle school, Dr. Hughes said they had no trouble adapting it for elementary school.

"It's just a building, and you make it what you want it to be," she said, adding that every student was given a map the first day of school. "We're making sure the students feel like it's their home and they know exactly where they need to be."

Only classrooms in the main building and band rooms are being used, along with the cafeteria and gymnasium. Buildings G and I, located behind the gym, are planned to house Student Services that has been located in the back of the old Norris building.

Standing in the front hallway of the school, Dr. Hughes looked around at the old building with a big smile on her face.

"I love this building. It's beautiful," she said. "I love the high ceilings and the auditorium. The kids have an auditorium where they can actually see the stage. Plus, all the space. There's a lot of space for storage."

Not only is the building new, but the school is new to Dr. Hughes. She was principal of Dearing Elementary School before being transferred to Norris Elementary this year. She said the transition has been smooth.

"These people have been so welcoming. It's a good fit, and I'm not just saying that," she said.

Since she was a fifth-grade teacher before she was a principal, Dr. Hughes said she wasn't worried about being a fourth-fifth grade principal.

"I'm focusing on what works for this age, the age of transition from elementary to middle school. ... My goal is to make AYP, nothing less," she said. "And people fought so hard to keep this building open. I want them to come and be a part of it. I want them to come and visit us and volunteer."

Web posted on Thursday, August 26, 2010

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