New school year begins without a hitch

Children head up the sidewalk to Princeton’s South Elementary Tuesday morning, more than a few children holding the hand of another, for the first day of the school year. The school has grades K-2.

A water fixture and an iPad breaking, and an unusually long wait for rescheduling classes were probably the most out-of-the-ordinary occurrences at Princeton High School (PHS) when the new school year opened on Tuesday.

Otherwise, PHS principal Pete Olson and principals Dan Voce (middle school), John Beach (North Elementary) and Greg Finck (South Elementary) said the opening day at their schools was about normal.

Olson did note that the enrollment at PHS appears to be above last year’s count of 1,042. At about 11:05 a.m. on Tuesday the PHS enrollment was approximately 1,060.

Close to 45 new students showed up at the start of this school year that weren’t anticipated, Olson said Tuesday morning. “And counting,” he added, saying it was still early to know exactly how many new enrollees the high school would have.

School officials like to have increasing enrollment rather than decreasing because at about $6,000 per student in governmental aid at the high school, 10 fewer students would come out to $60,000 in lost revenue, Olson said.

Olson pointed to the enrollment at PHS climbing since the 2009-10 school year when it was 1,030. It had dropped at that point since hitting 1,068 in 2008-09, and 1,078 in 2007-08.

The other three happenings at PHS on Tuesday were part of what is usually a “hectic” time on the first day when 1,000 plus students and 100 staff members arrive after the summer break, Olson said.

The water event on the second floor of PHS occurred at close to 8 a.m. when a water fountain broke and water spread into the hall, Olson said. It turned out to be a minor event, he explained, because custodian Ken Van Driel found the shutoff valve for the fountain. Until the individual shutoff was found, the water had to be shut off for the whole school, Olson noted.

The unusual part about the line of students for rescheduling classes at PHS was that the wait was longer than in past years. One student remarked that he had been waiting for 1 1/2 hours.

There is always some rescheduling, Olson said, and explained how that happens. Students register prior to the summer break and then staff members look at how many students are enrolled in each course. If there are not enough enrolled in a course, then it has to be cancelled and a substitute class or course is assigned to those students who were in the dropped course. Some students find that the course they were newly assigned doesn’t work and so they ask to reschedule.

Olson also reported that one of the new iPads owned by the school district broke that day. It was the first one to break and it happened when a staff member dropped it, Olson said.

Six hundred seventy-two iPads were distributed in Princeton Public Schools this year for educational use.

But the opening day at PHS went well otherwise, including the photo taken of the senior class in the gymnasium, Olson said.


Middle school

“It went very smooth,” is how Principal Voce described opening day at his building. Voce estimated the opening day count there to be about the same as last year at approximately 815.

It takes about a week for everything to “settle down” to get a closer tally, Voce said. The middle school plays a role in helping South Elementary children find their buses. The busing system is set up so that a majority of the South Elementary students who ride the bus take a bus from the elementary to the middle school and then get on to a bus that has their route.

The middle school has adopted the Where Everybody Belongs (WEB) program in which mostly eighth graders at the middle school, and a small number of seventh graders, become leaders in helping with certain tasks. The main one is where WEB leaders help the incoming sixth graders get oriented to the middle school and continue to help those student throughout the rest of the school year.

The other task the WEB leaders do is help South Elementary students find their transfer buses. South Elementary staff members also assist in that job at the middle school in the early days of the new school year.


North Elementary

North Elementary Principal Beach used the same words as Voce to describe the start of school at North. Beach estimated the opening day enrollment there to be in the 750 range, or what he said he expected, which is about 50 less than the 802 students last school year. A staff member explained on Tuesday that the incoming third grade class at North was smaller than usual.


South Elementary

Estimating the opening day number at South Elementary is “tricky,” said Principal Finck. The big reason, he explained, is because of phasing in of how many kindergartners attend in the early part of the school year. It won’t be until Sept. 14 that the kindergarten scheduling is regular, he noted. South Elementary has a number of kindergarten children who attend every day and the rest of the kindergartners who attend every other day.

Finck, nevertheless, said he is expecting the school to have an enrollment of about 750, which is about six more students than last year.

As far as how the first day went, “so far it’s been great,” Finck said. South Elementary established a certain simple routine a number of years ago, such as in helping children get onto the correct bus and has stuck with that format, Finck said.

The one small change at South Elementary is that the school opens at 7:45 a.m., which is five minutes earlier than before.