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Smooth sailing on opening day of school in Eastern Panhandle

August 27, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY and DAVE McMILLION

martinsburg@herald-mail.com
charlestown@herald-mail.com

EASTERN PANHANDLE - During a visit to Orchard View Intermediate School Thursday, Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon noticed something that could be considered odd.

Students were working. Computer labs were filled.

"It seemed like it was about the second or third month of school," Arvon said.

It was actually the first day, and the day progressed smoothly without any major problems, Arvon said.

A new school - Spring Mills Middle - opened. Students at Musselman High School and Hedgesville Elementary School occupied new classrooms and those at Musselman Middle School got a look at their new band room.

Mostly what was new throughout the county, though, were faces. Although the final number was not in, enrollment was expected to increase by more than 500 students this year.

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Berkeley County's projected student enrollment of 15,000 cements its place as the second-largest school district in the state. Only Kanawha County, which includes the state capital of Charleston, has more students.

The population in Kanawha County, however, continues to decline, while the population growth in Berkeley shows no signs of stopping.

"I would think probably in the next eight to 10 years Berkeley County will be the largest school district in the state," Arvon said.

As the first day of school wound down Thursday, Arvon was at the bus garage.

"We have all the children home now," he said.

A few students got on the wrong bus, mostly because they spotted their bus driver from last year and assumed he or she would be their driver again this year.

Routes did change, though, in part because the new school opened, Arvon said.

Bus drivers had to maneuver around road construction in the City of Martinsburg and learn the streets in new housing developments.

"Those are things we just have to deal with," Arvon said. "It'll take a few days to work all the kinks out."

Along with visiting numerous schools, Arvon also spoke with all of the new principals in the county, asking how their first day progressed. "Excellent" or "great" were the responses Arvon received, he said.

"Honestly it's been a wonderful day," Arvon said.

When school officials in Jefferson County opened their doors Thursday, 143 new students showed up looking for a space in the school system, school officials said.

That does not include kindergarten students, who start today, officials said.

School officials on Thursday counted a total of 6,586 students in schools, compared to the 6,443 who showed up on the first day of school last year, said Pat Burch, who works in the school system's attendance office.

Although principals had their hands full dealing with larger numbers of students, the opening day was "unbelievably smooth," said Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols.

Every part of the process, from academics, to food service to transportation, went well, Nichols said.

One of the schools that saw a jump in enrollment was Wright Denny Elementary School, where the student population went from 347 to 387, Burch said.

The increase is a big change from years ago, when yearly enrollment changes used to be about 10 students a year, said Wright Denny Principal Chris Walter.

The increases make it challenging for school administrators, who have to make sure there are enough supplies for students and make sure that Individual Education Plans, referred to as IEPs, are properly organized, Walter said.

Individual Education Plans are set up for gifted, special education and learning disabled students, Walter said.

"You're talking about a lot of preparation," Walter said.

At Jefferson High School, which has received a lot of attention in recent years because of crowded conditions there, continued to see growth Thursday, said Principal Sheri Hoff.

Although Hoff did not have a total attendance figure, she said it appears about 100 new students showed up. Another portable classroom, which will have room for two classes, is on its way to the school to help free up space, school officials said.

Halls at the high school often are packed with students as they move from classroom to classroom, and school officials have different ways of coping with the crowds, Hoff said.

In addition to the main hallways, students are shown smaller hallways at the front and back of the building that they can use, and they are allowed to walk around the building outside to reach different parts of the school, Hoff said.

Hoff and other administrators started tweaking student schedules Thursday in an attempt to free up as much space as they can. If a student does not need a certain class, sometimes the student is moved out of the class to make room for another student who does need it, Hoff said.

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