Despite big changes, first day a typical one for Natchez schools

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — The first day of school went smoothly at McLaurin Elementary School with the exception of a few tears from some kindergartners, including Mitchell Wofford, who stayed by his new classroom door looking down the hall for his mother.

NATCHEZ — Confusion, anxiety, excitement and even a little patience were the words of the day, the first day of school, that is.

It looked like chaos, but for the teachers and faculty of the Natchez-Adams County School District, it was just the start of another year — with a twist.

Earlier this year, the NASD Board of Trustees voted to reorganize the school district. As a result, West, Frazier and McLaurin elementary schools now house kindergarten through fifth grades. Sixth through eighth graders are attending Morgantown Middle School, and there is a new, separate ninth-grade academy at Natchez High School.

McLaurin parent liaison Cookie Gibbons was one of the many employees and volunteers ready to give parents and students directions to classrooms. Gibbons helps Arianna Smith and Sontonny Davis find their new classrooms Monday morning.

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“Despite it all, it has been a smooth transition,” McLaurin Principal Alice Morrison said. “The first day has gone quite well. We prepared ourselves well for today.”

She said the staff had all summer to prepare for any problems and put a plan in place to head off any issues that might have occurred.

“There had been nothing we couldn’t handle,” Morrison said. “We came in expecting (issues) and had a plan. Overall, communication has been the key.”

Things could have been more chaotic, but Morrison said the patience of the parents, students and staff have made the difference.

At Morgantown Middle School, Assistant Principal Zandra McDonald described the first day back as “typical.”

“Yes there is a lot of chaos, but its normal chaos,” McDonald said. “It’s just a typical first day making sure children are where they need to be and they have a schedule. As we get on into the week, things will settle down.”

Eighth grader Marcos Medrano, 13, had bittersweet feelings about coming back Morgantown. He spent his fifth and sixth grade years at Morgantown and his seventh-grade year at Robert Lewis Middle School, which was closed this year.

“It’s not too bad,” Medrano said. “It has been a good transition.”

He said the best thing about starting the new school year was the fact he would be going to high school next year.

Jackie Griffin gives her daughter Jyrah a reassuring hug before leaving her in her new kindergarten class at McLaurin.

Natchez High School Principal Cleveland Moore and new ninth-grade academy Principal Sekufele Lewanika were excited to get the new year started.

“Everyone was ready,” Lewanika said. “All the students were smiling and excited.”

Moore agreed. He said everything was off to a great start and as far as any issues, it was “typical first day kinks.”

New ninth grader Abrina Temple, 14, was a bit nervous.

“It’s different than Robert Lewis,” Temple said. “It’s larger, and there are more people. It’s high school.”

New NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill said his main worry was how well the new bus routes would work.

“I thought there might be some problems with the buses,” Hill said Monday morning. “There were some students that were not clear if they were in the right spot, but it turned out they were.”

Hill said his staff would continue to be “first-day” mode for the rest of the week.

“(Monday) was great. I can think of any other word but great,” Hill said. “We will pretty much be in the same mode all week.

“(Monday’s) enrollment was lower than we had anticipated. We are missing 200-300 students from what we thought the total enrollment would be.”

He said he expected those students to enroll as the week progresses.