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Clayton schools open doors for new year

‘It’s been a thing of beauty all day’

Photo by Jim Massara
“I love the children,” says Helen Cleveland, crossing guard at Lee Street Elementary School in Jonesboro.

Photo by Jim Massara “I love the children,” says Helen Cleveland, crossing guard at Lee Street Elementary School in Jonesboro.

JONESBORO — Clayton County’s 52,000 public-school students may be anticipating a new Common Core curriculum and a controversial shortened school day once a week. But to look at the smiling faces, the brightly colored uniforms, the teachers answering questions and the lines of school buses snaked through the parking lot, you’d never know anything had changed.

Classes started Monday morning, and it was business as usual.

“It was a very smooth opening day,” said Clayton County schools spokesman David Waller.

Teachers and administrators said they were both “excited” — a word used repeatedly — to meet new students and happy to return to a familiar routine.

“This has been a wonderful start to the new year,” said Zak Watson, principal of Lee Street Elementary School in Jonesboro. “Everybody’s excited. There’s a great energy in the building. It’s been a thing of beauty all day.”

Bus driver Dorothy Garner of Jonesboro said that it “feels great to see all the kids excited and ready to go back to school.”

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Photo by Jim Massara Tonishia Whitlow guides a student to his bus on the first day of class at Lee Street Elementary School in Jonesboro.

Veteran art teacher Barbara Kerberger summed up her feelings in a word: “Awesome.”

Even the parents were caught up in the first-day excitement. Deb Frazier, waiting to pick up her grandchildren Cameron and Riley, said she was especially looking forward to hearing Cameron’s reaction to school. He began pre-kindergarten Monday.

Pamela Purdom, who’s starting her 19th year teaching, welcomed the return to a routine.

“It went pretty smooth, as far as working with children,” Purdom said as she paced down the hall just as classes was being let out. “I cannot complain.”

But perhaps the person happiest to be back was Helen Cleveland, who’s been guarding school crosswalks for close to four decades.

Cleveland said that a Clayton County police captain tried to recruit her for crossing guard duty years ago — but that her husband didn’t think she could cut it.

“My husband said, ‘Oh, you’ll never do that,’ because I was so shy,” Cleveland said. “He said you’ll never get out in that street.”

That was 36 years ago.

“I love it,” Cleveland said. “I love the children. They always have something cute to say.”