LUMBERTON — Principals reported smooth sailing Monday on the first day of school for Public Schools of Robeson County students, but urged parents to be patient as the administrators work to perfect bus routes and morning drop-off operations.
Doors opened to the 17,300 students that reported Monday to schools throughout the district, said Gordon Burnette, PSRC’s chief Communications officer. The school district had 20,258 students enrolled as of Monday.
Burnette also said 2,997 students rode to school on buses Monday.
PSRC still has openings for bus drivers and is working with school staff, such as teacher assistants who have Commercial Driver’s Licenses, to drive the buses, Robert Locklear, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Accountability, told The Robesonian on Friday.
There are about 38 bus driver vacancies in the school district, Burnette said.
“Everything’s gone smoothly,” Fairmont High Principal Kent Prater said Monday.
The school has between 845 and 850 students enrolled, he said. More than 730 students were on campus Monday.
“That’s a fluid number,” he said.
Enrollments and withdrawals were continuing to be processed Monday, he said.
“I think most of ‘em were glad to be back, but cautious,” Prater said, referencing the continuing pandemic.
Regular cleaning continued Monday between uses of buses, desks and classrooms, according to the principal.
His goal for the school year was to “remain safe” and have an environment “conducive to learning,” Prater said.
Lumberton Senior High School experienced a hiccup in traffic Monday morning, as lines of motor vehicles stretched from the parking lot entrance on Linkhaw Road to the intersection at Parnell Pool & Spa and to Walgreens on Fayetteville Road, according to Principal Larry Brooks. It took about 55 minutes to complete the morning drop-off routine. Vehicles also lined the roadways in the afternoon and backed up traffic near the school.
“I’ve never seen it that bad,” he said.
He believes that more students drove because of concerns about riding the bus and being at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus, Brooks said. Buses had lighter than normal loads on Monday, and the school is short about four bus drivers.
As parents and students get accustomed to traffic patterns the problem should “work itself out,” Brooks said. The school leader asks parents to drop students off by 7:45 a.m. so classes can begin at 8:20 a.m.
“Aside from traffic, everything went smooth today,” Brooks said.
More than 1,800 students were on campus, he estimated. The school has about 1,935 students enrolled.
Another challenge was coordinating teacher assistants to cover classrooms where more substitute teachers are needed, he said.
But, ultimately, he is glad to see students back on campus, Brooks said.
“We’re doing the best that we can to keep ‘em safe,” he said.
About 320 students returned to school Monday to Rex-Rennert Elementary School, Principal Nikki Brooks said. The school has an enrollment of about 360 students.
Kindergarten students will have a staggered schedule for the first week of school to adjust to in-person learning, she said. About four or five students will be added to classes per day for the first week only. All students will attend classes on the second week.
“We were just happy to all be back in the building. We just hope we can stay,” Nikki Brooks said.
“This is what we live for,” she said of educators. “This is what we love to do.”
However, she asked parents to be patient as the school tries to get more bus drivers.
“We could tell some students were just a little reserved about being back in school,” said David Oxendine, the new principal of Long Branch Elementary School.
Oxendine said Monday was a “great day,” and bus route times should improve in the coming days as drivers become more familiar with routes.
“Our timing will get better with that,” he said.
About 366 total students are enrolled at the school and 312 of them were on campus Monday, according to school officials.
Oxendine said that with the support of his staff, fellow principals and PSRC’s Central Office staff, he is settling in to his new role and is confident the school year will be a good one.
Amanda Tyner, who transitioned from Long Branch Elementary School to St. Pauls Elementary School this year, said she has more adjusting to do in order to grow into the role of principal of a school with a larger student body than the one from which she came. St. Pauls Elementary had close to 600 students on campus Monday, and enrolled between 50 to 75 students during the first day of school.
Tyner said a new drop-off plan for students will be in place on Tuesday.
“My hope is that it will be a lot better tomorrow,” she said of the morning drop-off routine.
But students and staff had great attitudes on the first day of school, Tyner said. The principal was concerned of burnout in teachers and students who took part in the summer school program, but she encountered the opposite.
“It’s just been a lot more positive than I expected,” she said.
“I think that these kids are just starving for normalcy,” Tyner said.
She looks forward to a year filled with more academic support provided to teachers by the academic coaches and plans to add three more teacher assistants to the two she already has welcomed aboard.
“We are doing our best to ensure that everyone grows academically this year,” Tyner said.
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