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Students, staff at all levels start anew
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Matt Elementary fifth-grader Samuel Adams films morning announcements during the first day of school Monday. - photo by Jennifer Sami

The first day of school is "always an exciting time" for Buster Evans, and this year was no exception.

Evans, the superintendent of the Forsyth County school system, praised the district's staff for a "phenomenal job getting ready."

"To my knowledge, everything has gone extremely well," he said Monday. "I've been out in some of the traffic. I've been to probably half a dozen schools thus far and everybody just reports good smooth flow of everything taking place."

The system has added nearly 1,300 students since May, bringing total enrollment to about 32,000 in pre-kindergarten through 12th grades across 30 campuses.

With no new schools opening this year -- the system debuted three last August and plans five new campuses for the 2009-10 year -- the biggest worry may have been traffic.

The return of school buses made for slow going in some parts Monday, particularly on Hwy. 141 where there is construction near South Forsyth High School.

Jennifer Caracciolo, spokeswoman for the school district, said it typically takes "two to three weeks for the bus routes to actually be worked out and get there on time, and for people to adjust their schedules."

"On the first day of school, we have a lot of parents that want to drive their children to school," she said. "Or they want to drive to school and get pictures of their children getting off the bus, and we have a lot of new students."

In addition to new teachers and students, four schools welcomed new principals this year.

They include: Connie Stovall at Liberty Middle; Steve Miller at Otwell Middle; Charlley Stalder at Matt Elementary; and Jason Branch at South Forsyth High.

Visits to several schools Monday provided a glimpse into the first day happenings.

'We hope that they'll trust us'

Monday was difficult for Julie Estep.

She had to drop off her oldest son, Gage, for his first year of school at Matt Elementary.

Then, with her youngest son Hatcher, who still has a couple of years left before he starts, she joined other first-time parents of school-aged children for Matt's "Boo Hoo Breakfast."

"I'm not crying. I'm over that part," she said. "It's just weird, because you feel like you're entering another phase in your life ... He's never been anywhere where anyone else has had to feed him lunch even, besides my mom babysitting him.

"You feel like you're throwing him to the wolves a little bit, but it's a good school and I'm really appreciative of that.

He's got a great teacher so we'll just see what comes. It's going to be exciting."

Seeing parents as teary-eyed as their anxious kindergarteners is nothing new for Charlley Stalder, principal at Matt Elementary. With 11 years of experience at the elementary level, Stalder was ready for Monday.

"That's their baby that they're trusting us to take care of, and it's hard for them to let go, but we hope that they'll trust us," she said.

"Parents don't know me because I'm new. So it's just letting them get to know me so that they know I'm going to take care of their babies.

"The kids have so much fun that the second day is so much better because they want to come back."

'Everybody's just so on top of it'

Sisters Emily and Katie Pitts not only were ready Monday morning for the bus to North Forsyth Middle, they were excited to go back to school, albeit for different reasons.

Katie Pitts wished "it was still summer" but said she was "excited to see all my friends."

Unlike last year, however, she is in middle school. It also is the first time in two years the sisters are attending the same school.

Katie Pitts seemed excited to have big sister around. And while she joked about being stuck with her kid sister, Emily Pitts said she would "get to help her out with a lot of stuff too."

As an eighth-grader, Emily Pitts said she wants to "enjoy my last year [in middle school] because I'm at the top again, and I have to go to the bottom again next year."

At Otwell Middle School, former Teacher of the Year Michael Sloop was both nervous and excited to be back teaching eighth-grade physical science.

"You do have so many kids you don't know and you get nervous about how it's going to go," he said. "And your reputation precedes you and you hope it's a good thing.

"But we have great kids in the community and good community support, so we expect another good year."
Monday was definitely hectic for Otwell Principal Steve Miller.

In addition to being new and welcoming more than 900 students to the school, Miller also had to worry about his own 10 children making it to school on time.

He said the first bus arrives at 6:35 a.m. and keeps "going until about 8:15 at my house."

"But there were no tears," he said, "so that's a good thing."

His first day as a principal in Forsyth County was "extremely organized."

"Everybody's just so on top of it," he said. "Everything that needs to be done, before you can anticipate a problem, they already have a solution."

'Stepping into the unknown'

With four Advanced Placement classes on Zac Redmon's schedule at South Forsyth High School, "senioritis" is not going to be an option this year.

"Senior year's the different one from all of them, I've heard, so it's kind of stepping into the unknown," he said.

Having passed his AP tests from last year, Redmon is diving into AP classes in microeconomics, macroeconomics, government and psychology.

He joked that his plans could change 1,000 times between now and the end of the year, but he hopes to attend Georgia State University for a degree in business, and then pursue a master's in international business and business law at Georgetown University.

Until then, Redmon will focus on his heavy workload and musical theater, which he said serves as training for his future in business.

"You have to know how to run a business to run a theater," he said. "So I've learned that side from just being in the arts, trying to manage how much money we're spending on items for the show and how much time and effort we're putting into what we're coming out with.

"You always want to come out stronger and a little bit wealthier for the department after you do a show."

Freshman Kyle Cheney still has another three years to go before facing the same decisions as Redmon. For now, his biggest concern is "not getting lost and passing my classes."

"It's really big and there are a lot of people," he said. "And my dad's [Jeff Cheney] the assistant principal."

He also looks forward to playing football on the freshmen team this year.

After a long summer, complete with getting married and moving twice, Jason Branch was more than ready to take over as South Forsyth High School's new principal.

"I think we've done a very good job preparing for the students," he said.

"There are always a few butterflies in your stomach when you start the first day, just as the kids have, but we're excited to get everyone here and gets started.

"It's going to be a great school year."