COLUMBIA — Standing in the hallway with a sky blue shirt, Principal Amy Watkins welcomed at least 400 students to Parkade Elementary School. On Thursday morning, Watkins marked her 16th first day of school as a teacher or administrator.
“This has been flawless,” Watkins said. “Kids are coming in like shiny new pennies. They are learning. I am excited.”
On the south side of Columbia, Mark Maus, the new principal at Rock Bridge High School, was relying on students to help him get accustomed to the layout of the school.
“I ask the kids what classes they are taking, and I’ll just walk there with them,” Maus said. “It’s been a learning experience.”
Rock Bridge boasts a student population of about 1,800. Maus said even returning students can have a difficult time finding their classrooms.
Maus said he was happy with his first day of school.
“A week from now we’ll play sports,” Maus said. “It’ll be a great year.”
This year’s first-day attendance for Columbia Public Schools is 17,558, slightly lower than the projected enrollment of 17,747. Attendance increased by 177 students from the first day of the 2009-10 school year. The district expects more students to enroll during the next several days.
Overall, the first day went smoothly, apart from some bus breakdowns, said Michelle Baumstark, the district’s community relations coordinator.
“We’re a very large district, so for nothing to happen, we’re very pleased with it,” Baumstark said, adding that bus malfunction was expected because the district has roughly 200 buses running 300 routes.
Most of the students at Parkade arrived right around the start time of 7:45 a.m. Tajon Jennings, a third-grader, arrived on time. The only problem was that he doesn't attend Parkade.
A student at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary, Jennings mistakenly rode a Parkade bus. He waited in the office for his mother to pick him up.
“I am not worried,” Jennings said. “I just want to learn writing and play with my friends.”
His eyes brightened when he saw his mother’s van pull into the Parkade lot. Rosetta Jennings whisked him to Alpha Hart Lewis. “His first day of school hasn’t started yet,” she said.