Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Jeylin White

jwhite@news-daily.com

A very pregnant and emotional Kellie Victory, of Jonesboro, had a hard time letting go of her 5-year-old daughter, Lala Victory, as the little girl began her first day as a kindergartner at Lee Street Elementary.

With her eyes filled with tears, Kellie Victory said jovially, "It's killing me -- it must be the hormones."

Little Lala, however, was not so emotional. In fact, her mother said, Lala couldn't wait to get to school. "She was fine," said Victory.

Like Lala Victory, Koren Mayson, a fourth-grader at Lee Street, also couldn't wait to get back to school, meet new teachers and reunite with old friends. "I'm ready to be challenged, educational wise," said Mayson.

Zach Watson, the principal at Lee Street, said that, based of his observation on Monday, parents and students were filled with "energy, and excited" for the first day of school. It was a great morning, and things seemed to have gone off without a hitch, he said.

Across Clayton County, thousands of students returned to school, on Monday morning, to begin the 2011-2012 school year, after a two-month, summer hiatus.

And there to greet them at the county's elementary, middle and high schools, were volunteers -- parents, residents, community and business leaders, elected officials and school officials, who made up the "Day One" army to welcome students back, and get things off to a good start.

At Lee Street, greeters, included parents, school staff members and State Reps. Glenn Baker and Yasmin Neal. Also on hand were employees of Comcast, the cable company, who were introducing a new program to students and parents, called "Internet Essentials," which, they said, is designed to provide broadband Internet services at a low cost to modest-income families in Clayton County.

Cheryl Hobby, a fouth-grade math teacher at Lee Street Elementary, also greeted pupils on Monday. She said pupils seemed be "very happy," and ready to hit the books. "The kids came in smiling and eager to be back," she said.

This year's school theme will be, "The Best School Year Ever," Watson said. The priority, he said, will be to have 100 percent of students meet or exceed state standards on standardized tests, with an emphasis on science and math. "Our goal is to have a 10-percent increase across the board in each of our content areas.

"This year, science is the second indicator for Adequate Yearly Progress," he added, "so we want to have a re-newed focus on that subject area."

Hobby agreed that the main focus will have to be math and science. For the first time, she said, Lee Street will use an online tutorial program called "Study Island," a standards-based assessment, instruction and test-preparation software program for grades K-12. Using the program, she predicted, will help students improve on the Criterion-Reference Competency Tests (CRCTs). "Teachers are really going to have to put a lot on emphasis on math and science to push those scores up for us," she said.

Over at Jonesboro High School, Principal Stephanie Johnson shared similar goals as the new school year began. Exhausted after a long "hot day" welcoming back 1,230 students, she said the school will continue to implement the same programs from last year. "Our theme this year is, 'Mission Possible,'" said Johnson. "We want our students to be able to compete in a global learning environment."

According to sate results released earlier this summer, Jonesboro High School was one of the two high schools -- out of nine in the Clayton County School System -- that made AYP last year, a source of pride for Johnson. "We accomplished three things last year," she said, "we made AYP, we're debt free, and we got fully accredited."

She said the school will raise the bar to exceed this year's graduation rate of 90 percent. "We are giving ourselves a 91-percent goal," said Johnson, adding that each student will receive personal advisement from teachers, in order to identify students who may need additional help. "For those who are failing," she said, "we may need to get those students in an eighth-period class to get them caught up."

Without hesitating, she declared the first day of school at Jonesboro High a success, and said she was happily "overwhelmed" by the 211 parents and others, who volunteered to help greet students. "We actually exceeded our goal of 200 volunteers," she said. "The parents took over and did a really great job. We had absolutely no glitches."

Back at Lee Street Elementary, parent Valerie Gallman, who is also the president of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) of Clayton County, dropped off her son, a fourth-grader. She said the morning had been a little hectic. "I had to get up a little earlier and get myself together," she said. "I had to push my son out of the bed a little bit -- he did not want to get up."

But, once the school's parking lot was in sight, Gallman said, her son's mood made a quick shift. "He was very excited. He is very happy about entering in the fourth grade."

Leslie Robinson, who is PTA treasurer in the county, has two children at Lee Street Elementary. Her fist-day experience was a little bitter sweet, she said. Robinson said she has a daughter, who started kindergarten, and her son graduated to the first grade. Both, she added, were eager to get back to school, especially her daughter. "She was like, 'Come on, let's go, let's get it started.'"

Gallman and Robinson both said they have high expectations for this school year, and their children's education is a top priority. For parents who share those same feelings, Watson said plans are already in the works to increase parent involvement in the school and, thereby, in the lives of the children. "We will do a lot of special activities and functions [for parents] this year," he said.

The school, he said, will introduce a new program, called "Father's Being Involved" (FBI), which will be made up of a group men, who have children attending the school. He said their main responsibility will be to provide support to students, and volunteer their time during major functions and school events. "In addition to the FBI program," he added, "We will have our school's parent liaison solicit support from parents and community members."

"Overall, from what I hear." said Jonesboro High's Stephanie Johnson, "It was a good first day for all schools [in Clayton County]."