Principal Wesley Roach expected a few hiccups with the opening of the new Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy on Wednesday, Aug. 8 for the first day of the 2018-19 school year.
“You go into a project like this with excitement and apprehension all at the same time,” he said.
Kicking off a new school year always comes with challenges, but Enota’s teachers, staff, students and their families have faced more than their fair share over the last year.
And that helps explain why Roach’s mixed feelings were joined by a sense of relief.
“All in all it's been pretty smooth,” he said of opening day. “It’s been a great experience to christen this building.”
A $19 million project that tore down the old elementary school and built a two-story, 129,000-square-foot facility on the same grounds has finally paid off for those who made the sacrifice.
Last school year, Enota doubled up at Centennial Arts Academy, sharing a campus, classrooms and parking.
Carolyn Stribling has seen Enota in all its recent phases. She spent her first year at Enota in the old building after teaching for Hall County Schools.
The move to Centennial “had its interruptions,” she said. “So we are so appreciative to have this building.”
As a flock of kindergarteners ran and jumped and screamed around her on the grassy playing field, Stribling looked at the building and what its future holds.
“It’s just been a breath of fresh air to come in and do what we want in our own space,” she said.
The new school features a full gym with hardwood floors; a media center; performing arts space; art exhibit hall; state-of-the-art classrooms for special-needs students; and other amenities the former school never had.
And several features from the old school that have sentimental or historical value have been kept, including the original front doors and the relic water tower from the old school’s garden. There are also plans to restore the garden.
Roach said the “end goal” was always in the back of everyone’s minds, and he’s gracious to the staff at Centennial for accommodating Enota’s students last year.
“I felt like our teachers, our kids, our families rose to the occasion,” he said.
Mary Ann Hudson, a kindergarten teacher whose grown children attended the old Enota school and even helped refurbish the new digs, said everyone pushed through no matter the constraints.
“I didn’t see a problem,” she added. “We kind of just went on as normal. It was worth the wait.”
Though the wait is over, new challenges have arrived that also require patience.
For example, pre-K has been added this year to all elementary schools in the city system, and that means 42 additional students at Enota.
There’s also 120-plus new kindergarteners, according to Roach, some of whom have arrived to the school for their first true educational experience.
The school’s total enrollment is more than 800, Roach said, compared with fewer than 700 when the old building was last in use and about 750 last year.
Additionally, the new facility may have attracted new families to Enota who might not otherwise have attended, Roach said. Parents could previously choose which elementary school in the city system to send their child, with the exception of the Mundy Mill Academy.
In February, however, the Gainesville Board of Education unanimously approved a redrawing of attendance zones and divided elementary schools into two clusters, with parents choosing their child’s school based on the cluster they were zoned.
One cluster includes Centennial, Fair Street, New Holland and Enota elementary schools; the other includes Mundy Mill and Gainesville Exploration.
The changes allowed the school system to expand pre-K to all elementary schools this year, whereas it was only offered at New Holland and Mundy Mill Academy last year.
Jeremy Williams, superintendent of Gainesville City School System, said the clusters only caused problems on a few occasions on the first day when a handful of students showed up to the wrong school.
“To me, that’s very positive,” he said.
Williams had visited the system’s eight schools before noon Wednesday, but Enota, in particular, was on his radar. He said he intended to return before the students were let out and then finish his day at the “bus farm.”
“We’re making sure our kids are getting home safely,” Williams said. “I won’t stop until there’s an ‘all-clear.’”
But across the city, there were only minor headaches on the first day.
“Everybody knows you’ve got to be patient,” Williams said, adding that things will settle in after the first week. “This makes for a great opportunity to learn when doing something different.”
And Williams credits the families of students for their continued involvement and support for the city’s school children because it’s evident when bus ridership is down a little to start the year.
“That first day parents want to walk them in and get them situated,” Williams said.