COLUMBIA — Thousands of students arrived Tuesday morning for Columbia Public Schools' first day of classes after a summer in which the school district completed millions of dollars worth of building renovations, expansions and improvements.
District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the schools opened with a total of 18,178 students enrolled and 142 new teachers. The district started the summer with a total of $48.2 million worth of building projects on its to-do list. Most of those are complete, but some are still being done.
The first-day enrollment has 42 students more than the number posted at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, according to a district news release. The biggest enrollment increase came from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, with 56 more students than last school year, followed by the ninth to 12th grade, with an additional 41 students.
Enrollment in the sixth through eighth grades fell by 55 students.
As in previous years, enrollment will probably change after registrations that are expected in the next few days. Official data will be computed on Sept. 24 or the last Wednesday of September, as required by state law.
"We’re having a great start," Baumstark said Tuesday afternoon. "We’re excited for the teachers, staff and custodians who worked really hard in the summer to prepare for this school year.”
According to the news release, district administrators will work this week to resolve any issues with class sizes or transportation. Baumstark said these are normal issues on the first day of school. She said the district could add classrooms or instructional aides to meet the state standard for class sizes. It also will try to ensure that bus drivers know their routes and that students know what time they need to be at the bus stop.
Principals contacted Tuesday said the first day of classes unfolded well.
"The first day of school is going smoothly," said Rock Bridge Elementary School Principal Ryan Link. "All of the buses were on time this morning.”
Mill Creek Elementary School Principal Tabetha Rawlings said that she had no concerns on the first day of school and that all the buses were on time.
"We’re just waiting for dismissal," she said a couple of hours before the end of the school day.
Over at Hickman High School, Principal Eric Johnson said the first day of school went well, too, except for a short period when phone lines were down.
Hickman High School and Rock Bridge Elementary School were among 31 schools and five buildings that had projects completed or started during the summer. The projects included the construction, renovation or purchase of various facilities and equipment.
One of the bigger projects was the installation of air conditioning at Jefferson Middle School and at Rock Bridge and New Haven elementary schools.
"Buildings feel very cool," Link, of Rock Bridge Elementary, said. He said students now have air-conditioning in the gymnasium for their physical education classes and assemblies.
The district also hired 142 new teachers from diverse fields and backgrounds. Retirements and attrition from the previous school year resulted in the vacancies, Baumstark said. For the 2014-15 school year, Columbia has an estimate of more than 1,200 public school teachers serving pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.
Baumstark said in an email that the new hires come from 18 states, including Missouri, and with teaching experience from more than 11 different countries, namely, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Scotland, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Italy, India, Japan, Ghana and Zambia.
Many of the new hires, she said, were former varsity college athletes, and some are husband-and-wife teams and relatives of former and current teachers. Some of the new teachers also have previous experience in the fields of art, chemistry, human resources, finance, public policy, engineering, social work, conservation, publishing, as well as service in the military and the Peace Corps.
The district also enters the school year with a lot of turnaround in high-level administration, including new Superintendent Peter Stiepleman, Deputy Superintendent Dana Clippard, Chief Financial Officer/Chief Operations Officer Linda Quinley and Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Ben Tilley.
Other new principals and district administrators include:
Jill Dunlap-Brown, principal, Russell Boulevard Elementary School.
Ed Schumacher, principal, Smithton Middle School.
Randall Gooch, director, Columbia Area Career Center.
Jim Cherrington, director of business services.
Melinda Adams, chief human resources officer.
Meghan Holleran, coordinator of adult education.
Shelli Adams, director of school improvement and Title I federal programs.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.