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Clayton students begin new year

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

As students at Babb Middle School in Forest Park settled into their seats for the start of homeroom on Monday, a recording of an old television show's theme song rang out from the school's public-announcement system.

"Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about," crooned John Sebastian, and a group of backup singers. "Well, the names have all changed since you hung around, but those dreams have remained and they're turned around."

Students heard the theme song from the TV show, "Welcome Back, Kotter," before morning announcements on their first day of the 2009-2010 school year Monday.

Clayton County Public Schools opened the school year with an expected enrollment of 46,599 students.

Parents enrolled their students in Clayton schools throughout the day, district Spokesman Charles White said, and they are expected to continue doing so in the days to come.

The first day of school brought two firsts for the county on the same day - the first day of uniform dress in Clayton County's nine high schools, and the first day of classes for Charles R. Drew High School. On top of that was the traditional anticipation some students, and their parents, feel about a new school year.

"I'm excited because it's a happy-face day," said Lake City Elementary School kindergartner Myles Horton, 5, while pointing to a smiley-face sticker on his shirt.

Horton was accompanied to his class by his father, Willie Horton, and his mother, Carol Cook. "This is my first child, so I'm really excited about him starting kindergarten this year," Willie Horton said.

Superintendent Edmond Heatley, who took over the district's top position on July 1, said he was also excited about the start of a new school year because it represented "this process we call education going on." He said he was particularly interested in seeing how students reacted to the district's uniform-dress policy for the county's high schools.

A survey of high school principals showed 96.4 percent of the 12,635 high school students who attended school on Monday were wearing uniform dress, according to White, the district's spokesman.

As students settled in, Heatley called adoption of the policy a success.

"I would say it's been outstanding," Heatley said. "For the most part, the kids who have come to school were wearing their uniforms. We told about 10 to 12 students at Forest Park High School to tuck in their shirts. And, when you have about 1,500 students at a school and you only have to remind 10 to 12 students to tuck in their shirts, that's pretty good."

The handful of students who did come to Forest Park High School without wearing uniform dress were sent to the school's front office, with Heatley personally escorting a couple of them.

Students who did show up for school in compliance with the uniform-dress policy said their compliance did not necessarily mean they liked the policy. Forest Park High School juniors LaJoi Battle and Cabrisha Anderson, both 16, complied with the policy, but expressed displeasure with it.

"Everybody has got on the same thing," Battle said.

"We like to be different," Anderson said.

D'Naymi Propst, 14, a sophomore at Forest Park, said she had mixed feelings about uniform dress. "I just don't like it," she said. "I'm complying with the policy [though] because I think it saves money since you don't have to buy too many clothes."

Heatley, a retired Marine, said he respected the students for showing up to school in uniform dress when they would have preferred wearing something else from their closets. "That's part of the growing-up process," Heatley said. "You have to follow the rules even if you don't always agree with them."

While all high school students in Clayton County were adjusting to a new dress policy, a few had to find their way around a new school as well. As Charles R. Drew High School Principal Gary Townsend stood in a hallway at the school during a class change, he helped students unfamiliar with the school's layout with questions about where their classes are located.

Townsend said the questions come with the territory of opening a new school. What also comes with that territory, he said, is the issue of teachers, staff, students and parents getting on the same page about what the school will be like.

Aside from a few glitches, Townsend said he was pleased with the way his new school opened.

"Fortunately, it's been going very well," Townsend said. "It's a new school, so you've got to develop the way things will work. You've got to figure out how you're going to move students around quickly. You've also got to have your teachers in place, and your rules in place ... It's almost been flawless today, though."