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Clayton schools kick off first day

North Clayton Middle School teacher Sharron Collins, left, speaks with Superintendent Luvenia Jackson on the first day of classes in Clayton County Public Schools. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

North Clayton Middle School teacher Sharron Collins, left, speaks with Superintendent Luvenia Jackson on the first day of classes in Clayton County Public Schools. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

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North Clayton Middle School Principal Shakira Rice, left, and Superintendent Luvenia Jackson greet parents and students as they arrive to school Monday. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

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Sharron Collins, right, introduces a class of North Clayton Middle School sixth-graders to her business and computer science class Monday. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

RIVERDALE — Zakia Winters said her 11-year-old daughter was more excited about the start of school than she was.

“She actually beat me waking up this morning,” she said.

Her sixth-grader is one of an estimated 52,000 students attending Clayton County Public Schools this year.

Dozens of parents — some who did not heed the district’s warnings to register early or prepare for longer waits for day-of registrations — waited to enroll their children.

Superintendent Luvenia Jackson greeted parents and students as they entered North Clayton Middle School early Monday morning. She surprised those who recognized her as the district’s schools chief.

“I’m looking forward to getting this day past us,” said Jackson, pointing to the organized chaos around her. It is typical of first days, she said.

She experienced more than a decade’s worth of first days as a classroom teacher for students with disabilities.

“I had the same feeling these teachers are having,” she said. “The first day is always rushed and hectic. (But) I was excited about the children coming back to school. I was also a little anxious, making sure I had everything my students needed.”

Principal Shakira Rice helped manage the rush.

She said there was an air-conditioning problem at the middle school early the first day. The unit was stressed, she said, but it kicked in as the morning progressed.

Rice said her school is implementing two new ideas this year to improve discipline and academic achievement.

“We’re implementing ‘flip’ classrooms where the instruction will be done at home (via podcast) and the hands-on learning is done at school,” she said. “For students without access to the technology, we’ve purchased laptop carts where children can download the lectures during connections.”

The school also has a discipline matrix that helps guide students in how to behave and interact with each other during the school day.

“It’s all about growth and achievement,” said Rice.

She pointed to the school’s new motto “212-degrees of learning.”

“At 212-degrees water boils, but it doesn’t boil at 211,” she said. “It just takes that 1-degree of work before it begins to steam up. It’s that 1-degree of effort that we’re asking everyone to give.”

Jackson said the academic achievement is a renewed goal districtwide.

“We’re going to increase rigor,” said Jackson. “We’re looking forward to better communications internally and externally. And we’re going to increase our use of technology.”

She said a successful year will require that every stakeholder in the school community, including parents, businesses and organizations, has an active role in the education process.

“We are here together,” she said. “It’s all about unity. It takes active engagement for us to be successful. That’s the most important thing.”