Walking into the administration office for Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Brownstown Central High School Principal Joe Sheffer was asked by a fellow administrator how the first day of school went.
He replied with a thumbs-up.
“It was nice to have the students in the building,” he later told school trustees and Superintendent Greg Walker. “I’ll take 179 more (school days) like we had today. We had a few glitches, but overall, it was great.”
New elementary Principal Chrystal Street and middle school Principal Doug McClure also had good reports about the first day of school.
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“We had a great day with staff (Monday) and an absolutely wonderful day with students,” Street said.
“Everybody showed up for work today. That’s good,” McClure said, smiling. “Everyone was in good spirits and had a really great first day.”
Medora Community Schools and Trinity Lutheran High School also started the 2016-17 school year Tuesday, while Seymour Community Schools returned to classes Wednesday. The last Jackson County school to start the year will be Sandy Creek Christian Academy, formerly known as Seymour Christian Academy. Those students return Aug. 17.
As of Wednesday morning, Sheffer said he has 576 students enrolled, which is comparable to the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Currently, the freshman class is the largest at 158, while the senior class is the smallest at 132.
The high school has several new support staff members, and students and staff were greeted to upgrades in the library and restrooms following summer projects.
“I had tons of compliments on the restrooms and the library,” Sheffer said. “Students love it, both areas, so I know when the community starts coming in and seeing it, you’re going to get a lot more compliments because it looks really nice.”
Sheffer said he expects the iGrad program to start sometime this school year. It will help students navigate barriers they experience as they advance through their academic career, which helps the school achieve a high graduation rate.
The program will be headed by alumnus Kate Shoemaker and former guidance counselor and coach Terrye Davidson. Both of them will work part time and be employed by Ivy Tech Community College.
“Right now, it’s still in the beginning stages,” Sheffer said. “We’ve got a lot of things to do, but eventually, they will get it going, and then we can tell you hopefully the difference they are making in some of the kids.”
At the middle school, McClure has established an “It’s a good day for it” campaign to go along with the principles of respect, responsibility and resourcefulness that were put in place last year.
Each day, there will be a different “it” shared in the daily announcements at school and on the school website.
“We believe that every day can be a good day, and while some days are disguised with challenges, perhaps even setbacks, each day holds the inherent potential of helping us move toward our personal goals and our collective goals as a school if we don’t give up and if we continue to put the good stuff in,” McClure said.
At Medora, elementary enrollment from preschool to sixth grade was 107 and seventh through 12th grades was 113 as of Wednesday morning.
In the spring, Superintendent Roger Bane announced a general fund budget reduction plan because of an expected drop in enrollment and funding, which resulted in people being concerned the school could close.
But Bane said if the corporation could maintain an average daily membership, or student count, of 220 or more and a cash balance of $250,000-plus, the school can stay open indefinitely. The ADM of students in kindergarten through 12th grade determines how much funding a corporation receives.
First-year Principal Austin Absher told Bane and the school board Monday that a handful of new students had enrolled that day, but a few students from last year had transferred to other schools.
She said having 12 preschoolers this year is a positive. Changes this year are combining first and second grades and including sixth grade in the elementary.
Ben Stellwagen, Trinity’s new principal, said enrollment was at 144 Wednesday morning. That’s down from the previous school year but up nine from a projection at the beginning of the summer, he said.
Several successes in classrooms, athletics and extracurricular programming in late spring drew attention to the school, Stellwagen said.
“Coupled with new marketing efforts designed to highlight Trinity’s offerings, they have given us a lot of momentum heading into this year and beyond,” he said.
The school has a couple of new staff members. Sarah Bumbleburg was hired as the new resource teacher and special education coordinator, and David Probst is the new director of development.
Also new this year is a sustained reading initiative in which the entire school — faculty, staff and students — will take a half-hour for silent, personal reading.
“It was a way to develop a culture of reading that emphasizes the value of reading for pleasure and across disciplines,” Stellwagen said. “We are very excited to roll it out.”
Trinity also is offering Advanced Placement biology and advanced animal science as upper-level science and agriculture classes. Students can earn college credit for performance in both classes.
In athletics, the school again has students playing football for the Greenwood-based Crimson Knights team. Trinity will be fielding its own team starting next season. Swimming also has been added as a winter sport at the school.
“We now offer 21 sports and 16 clubs and activities, with our newest being Trinity’s inaugural Car Club,” Stellwagen said.
Trinity is continuing its STAR program, which provides weekly instruction in skills, tutorials and resources for students and is tailored to their year in school.
Stellwagen described the first day of school as “wonderful” and said he hopes that carries into the remainder of the school year.
“For the school, I am eager to see all the ways students get involved in our programs and activities and how they interact with the community. High-schoolers have a vitality that is both spirited and endearing, and it will make for a joyful and entertaining year,” he said.
“Personally, I look forward to a seamless transition into my new position as principal and am grateful for all the help and support I have received from our faculty, staff, board, students, parents and local churches and supporters,” he said. “It is a joy to be here.”
After more than 30 years as Seymour Christian Academy, the school adopted a new name this year as it prepares to move all students to a building along Sandy Creek Drive.
The start of the school year will have some students at the Sandy Creek campus, while others will still be in the downtown Seymour location along Indianapolis Avenue.
“I anticipate being completely moved in to the Sandy Creek location by no later than the first of the year,” Principal Aaron Arrowood said.
As of Tuesday, enrollment is at 111 with a few still pending.
“I’m pleased that we have seen an increase in Christian families in the area enrolling,” Arrowood said. “Our mission isn’t just to have a great academic program, but to have a truly Christian environment. It’s impossible to achieve that end without Christian students.”
Two new teachers also have been added — Katie Wending in the elementary and Kenny Noble for high school English.
The school plans to have a new STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — focus this year. First-graders through seniors will be learning code-writing early in the year and then work their way up to robotics.
“We are forming clubs, as well as including enhanced STEM concepts into current courses,” Arrowood said. “I think it’s a great step for our school.”