NEW PALESTINE — The first day of the school year at a new building can be a trying time for students and staff.
Sugar Creek Elementary School Principal Mark Kern took it all in stride on Tuesday.
After 15 years as principal at New Palestine Elementary School, Kern moved to Sugar Creek this year, but he wasn’t flustered at all with the change despite taking on more responsibility at a bigger school.
“The big things in the job aren’t any different,” Kern said. “The biggest challenge is going to be learning the names of 790 new kids.”
Countywide, an unusually large number of administrators will go through similar exercises as school starts this week. No fewer than six schools – including three of Greenfield-Central’s four elementary schools – have new principals starting this week.
Southern Hancock schools were the first in the county to open, and district officials say things went off without a hitch.
“Smooth as silk,” Doe Creek Middle School Principal Jim Voelz said.
Mt. Vernon and Eastern Hancock schools open today, while Greenfield-Central students head back Thursday.
Brandywine Elementary School Principal Bruce Miller said all was well at his school during the first day of classes.
“We had a great start to our first day,” Miller said. “Buses were pretty much on time, and students all found their way to their classrooms OK.”
Miller, Voelz and Kern were able to fall back on many years of experience to get things ready for the first day. It was a little different for some students.
Many, after all, were heading to school for the first time.
At New Palestine Elementary school, kindergarten student Karter Kropp wasn’t wearing a smile as he headed into school, but he stowed a few things in his backpack from home to make the journey bearable.
“He’s got his Duck Dynasty blanket, his Mickey Mouse pillow pet and his 5-by-7 picture of his family,” said his mother, Brandy Kropp.
While Karter was eager to head to school, it wasn’t the same story for his mom, who was having a tough time of it.
“I’ve already cried five times,” she said. “He’s my baby.”
Still, there was nothing to worry about as Karter, his older brother, Kyler – a third-grader at NPE – and the other 550 students at the school were in good hands. First-year principal Katy Eastes couldn’t wait for the students to arrive and for the school year to officially start.
“I was telling someone the other day that while I’ve loved the other jobs that I’ve had, this is where I belong,” Eastes said. “I think it is going to be a great year.”
While Eastes said she slept fine the night before the first day of school, she was looking forward to getting her first week as a new principal under her belt.
“I told all the students who looked a little nervous during our open house to just look for me on the front lawn the first day of school, and I’d be there for them,” Eastes said.
Other than a slightly late-arriving school bus, things went off well at New Palestine High School, administrators say.
Principal Keith Fessler said the first day of school is always a little nerve-wracking, but for the most part, they’ve got the system down.
“The online registration has really helped,” Fessler said. “People can register for classes and pay online.”
That, he said, clears up the front-office confusion on the first day of school. Couple that with the third year of the balanced calendar being in place, and Fessler said students are eager to get to classes.
“What we’ve found with a shorter summer break is a lot of kids are still connected to the school with practices and sports so they don’t lose that connection,” Fessler said.
He said the vast majority of students actually enjoy coming to school.
“One of our teachers who traveled the state with the Department of Education said nowhere in the state did he see students gravitate to teachers like they do here,” Fessler said. “That says a lot about our kids and our teachers.”
While that might be the case, there were a few grumblings from students in the NPHS parking lot as they were making their way into school at 7:15 a.m.
“I don’t want to go to school,” a student said before getting a pat of encouragement on the back from a friend as they walked in the front door.