Summer vacation comes to an end Monday for the more than 27,000 Hall County Schools students returning to the classroom for the first day of the 2017-18 school year.
While construction workers, teachers and other school employees were busy last week getting final work completed and plans in place to deal with any potential issues, Kevin Bales, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said there is excitement about the new school year.
“If it goes according to plan, the excitement and the positive experiences will far outweigh any small, minor issues that will pop up,” Bales said Friday. “Personally, I like getting into the elementary schools to see those kindergartners arriving for day one of their educational experience; it’s really powerful. They bring an energy unlike what most people will be able to experience.”
Bales said preparations were taking place last week on school construction sites, in classrooms and on bus routes where employees were “making sure we’re ready to go for the first trips” to begin Monday morning. Some construction projects were completed just in time for open house events last week.
“One of the things that came together at the very last minute was Flowery Branch Elementary School, but we did have open house there this week and we’re ready to go,” Bales said.
Matt Cox, director of facilities and construction for the school district, wrote in an email to The Times Friday that summer renovation projects at Flowery Branch Elementary and North Hall and East Hall high schools had been completed. He added that a gymnasium addition at West Hall High School, which is slated to be done by Aug. 15, “is essentially complete.”
Cox said construction is continuing in some areas of the Academies of Discovery, which is home to World Language Academy and DaVinci Academy.
Cox said work is underway on a locker room addition to the gym, which is expected to be completed by mid-September, as well as construction of a two-story classroom addition that will be ongoing throughout the school year.
Both projects are part of a plan to make room for South Hall Middle School to return to the Academies of Discovery campus in August 2018. That move is part of a series of moves in the southern part of the school district to make room for a new middle/high school campus scheduled to open next fall at the site where Flowery Branch High School is currently located.
Cox said work has been completed on the first phase of the Academies of Discovery project, which included a new car-rider line, additional parking and partial reroofing.
Laurie Hitzges, principal of the middle school at World Language Academy, said the entrance to drop-off and pickup car riders has changed.
“Parents need to know the new entrance for car riders is off of Poplar Springs Road; it used to be off of Atlanta Highway,” said Hitzges. Both World Language and DaVinci have a video explaining the changes for car rider on their websites. To view the video, visit https://dva.hallco.org/web/carpool/.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with traffic because we’re very near Johnson High School — that’s my one concern,” Hitzges added. “Now, that entrance is literally next to Johnson. The plan is to have two crossing guards, one at the car-rider entrance and one at the entrance where the teachers come in, where the crossing guard always was.”
She added that both academies will make adjustments while work is going on to complete the locker room additions.
“We still have access to the gym; we’ll just have to be creative about how we get there,” she said. “It really doesn’t change anything for us.”
Despite the changes, Hitzges said she is excited about the new school year.
“Some of the teachers were reporting that 100 percent of their students showed up for open house,” she said. “We really just felt the excitement. The kids were just hugging each other because many of these students have been together since pre-K. It’s like seeing family again. I think everyone is ready to get this party started.”
She advised parents to “expect a delay” as students come to and from school this week.
“It’s always like that the first week of school,” Hitzges said. “Dropping off, there’s going to be a delay; when students are arriving home from buses, there’s always a delay and then we have frantic parents calling. It’s always going to be that way because we have bus drivers learning new routes. Now with the construction and everything, parents are just going to need to trust that we’re doing the best we can to get the kids home and safe. That’s our main priority, obviously.”