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WCS first day of school brings new beginnings

Assistant Principal Chris Hawkins greets each teacher and student at Grassland Middle.

Photos by Kerri Bartlett

It’s a new beginning for students, faculty, staff and parents, as all 42 school buildings opened their doors for the first day of school in Williamson County Schools today.

Waves of parents navigated city and county traffic and students poured through shiny, waxed hallways with the familiar energy and buzz that accompanies reuniting with friends and teachers.  

Sixth through eighth graders at Grassland Middle School happily fumbled with infamous locker combinations as freshmen at Franklin High School entered the uncharted territory of high school. Meanwhile Yolanda Blackburn started her first day as assistant principal of Grassland Elementary. 

Grassland Middle like home 

Although it’s all new today, Chris Hawkins, assistant principal of Grassland Middle School, said that it won’t take long for students to get settled, learn locker combinations and ease into the flow of the school year. “In a few days, it will be like summer never happened,” he said.

Hawkins is glad to be back into the swing.

He began his hall rotations at 7:25 a.m. with the enthusiasm of someone returning home. As he peeked in grade-level classroom doors to say “hello” – and chat –to students (approximately 1,000) and teachers, he made a point to visit one student.

Grassland is like a second home to Hawkins – “I had to stop in to welcome my neighbor to her first day of middle school,” he said.

His wife teaches fifth grade at Grassland Elementary, just a short walk away from GMS. The couple’s child even started seventh grade this year in the building that Hawkins leads, and his college roommate, Dr. Russ Keller, teaches social studies down the hall. 

“We went to high school and college together in Knoxville,” Hawkins said. 

“I think it’s important to see all of the kids’ faces and check in with teachers,” he said. Hawkins especially likes to check on new teachers as they transition into a new profession. “I just want to read their face and see if everything is okay on the first day,” he said. 

He will continue his greeting process over the next three or four days of school until everyone is settled, he said. 
The newest addition to Grassland Middle’s schedule this year is FOCUS – a class period that focuses on helping all students in math and language arts remediation. “We took students’ test scores and mixed and matched them with appropriate teachers and class groups in order to help increase TCAP scores,” Hawkins said. “It’s like having extra time or an additional class in reading and math.”

Grassland Elementary welcomes new assistant principal

Yolanda Blackburn is the new assistant principal at Grassland Elementary

About an hour later, at 8:25, Yolanda Blackburn, began her day greeting parents, students and staff as the new assistant principal at Grassland Elementary School. 

With an illuminating smile and bright orange dress to match, Blackburn said she is excited to join the Grassland family. 

However, Blackburn is not the only “newbie” at the school. A new music teacher, four new Student Support Services assistants and quite a few teachers have shifted their instruction to new grade levels.

Although new to the Grassland community, Blackburn is a native teacher of Williamson County Schools, and she understands the novelty and potential stressors that the first day can bring for new teachers and even seasoned teachers.
Since Blackburn has been the system-wide, full-time new teacher mentor for the last three years, teachers will be in good hands here. 

Addison Latham begins the first grade with her new fully stocked backpack at Grassland Elementary. 

A WCS teacher since 2001, she also brings her experience as a previous special education teacher at Kenrose and Hunter’s Bend elementary schools.

By 8:40 a.m. hallways cleared at Grassland Elementary as students settled in at their new desks with their new teachers – ready to learn. Blackburn’s role as administrator now commences.

“My goal is working with every student every day in collaboration with staff to help close achievement gaps,” Blackburn said.

“I want to be a support for the new curriculum introduced to the county and be visible to students and staff.”
Franklin High pilots technology and launches buses

At Franklin High School, visitors lined up at electronic “visitor kiosks” to sign-in as part of a WCS pilot program to increase safety at schools. The sleek white monitor attached to a white base administers a series of questions for all visitors who enter the school to answer – including name, address, make/model and color of car and even snaps a picture at the end of the survey.

“We know exactly who is in the building, and it even prints their picture,” Principal Willie Dickerson said. 

At 11 a.m. the school day concluded at FHS, which could have been a harrowing process had it not been for the cool, calm demeanor of the school’s longtime administrative assistant Helen Gatlin. As students began loading onto buses, Gatlin stood nearby carrying a two-inch thick packet in her hands. She was armed with student information that would help them find the right bus and route home.

Senior Nydia Bradley gets bus directions from Helen Gatlin, longtime FHS administrative assistant.  

When Bus 55 unexpectedly could not make its route due to a family emergency, Gatlin and Ninth Grade Assistant Principal Shane Pantall stepped in to get the message to the student body over the intercom. 

“You have to be able to bob and weave,” Gatlin said. 

Val Petl, driver of Bus 112, confirmed that she would carry out her initial route, then come back for students assigned to Bus 55. 

“I’ve been a bus driver for 20 years,” she said. “I don’t mind. I’m used to it,” she said smiling.  
The first day for students seemed to elicit smiles as they located the appropriate bus – even if a few had to wait a bit longer than usual. 

“The first (day) was really good,” Senior Nydia Bradley said. “I am excited because it’s my senior year, and I have a lot of classes with my friends.”


Posted on: 8/9/2013


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