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Students go back to school today
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Centennial Arts Academy faculty members check transportation schedules Wednesday afternoon in preparation for today’s start to the new school year. Pictured from left are Megan Preston, Ari Guzman, Dallas Thompson and Jennifer Roth.


Merrianne Dyer, interim superintendent for Gainesville City Schools, talks about getting ready for the new school year.
Temperatures are still sizzling outside, but the summer is over for some 30,000 Gainesville and Hall County students heading back to school this morning.

Area teachers and administrators have spent the past week getting rooms and hallways ready, and meeting with many students and their families at busy open houses at schools.

"We’ve got great teachers in place, and we’re ready to take rigor and competency to a new level," said Will Schofield, superintendent of the Hall County school system. "We’re ready to go."

Hall County is opening one new school, World Language Academy, and an existing school, Chestnut Mountain Elementary, in a new location at 4841 Union Church Road.

World Language Academy is in Chestnut Mountain’s previous home at 4670 Winder Highway.

Merrianne Dyer, interim superintendent for the city system, echoed Schofield’s sentiment. She said that, today, school officials particularly will be eyeing bus routes, even though those haven’t changed much from last school year.

"We want to get people (to school) and get them home," she said.

Gainesville school officials are especially ready to move the focus onto academics and off — at least for a while — a tough summer that revealed a $5.6 million budget deficit, resulting in the firing of Superintendent Steven Ballowe.

The school system has yet to pass a 2008-09 budget, but board Vice Chairman Kelvin Simmons said earlier this week, "Opening school is now our priority. We’ll deal with the budget, but we’ve got to move (into the new year)."

Today is especially exciting for new teacher Sonya Negley.

A stay-at-home mom for years, she is beginning her education career at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy in Gainesville. She teaches first grade.

"It was a goal of mine (to teach) from early childhood," said Negley, 40.

She took a large step toward realizing that dream when she graduated in May with a teaching degree from Gainesville State College in Oakwood.

"I’m anxious as well as excited. Every time you do something for the first time, it’s very nerve-racking," Negley said.

"I got to meet some of the students (Wednesday) because we had an open house, so that settled me some," she said.

"Once the kids come, then you realize why you’re here."

The start of school also means the beginning of heavy traffic season, as parents and students adjust to new routines in the school year.

Authorities caution that motorists heading to work or other destinations this morning might want to allow for more traveling time. The first day of school typically increases traffic congestion, particularly on secondary streets leading to main thoroughfares.

Maj. Jeff Strickland, spokesman for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, said deputies will be out in force, particularly in school zones where the speed limit drops to 35 mph.

"We will have officers using radar and laser in various traffic zones both in the morning and (afternoon)," he said.

Also, some deputies "will be assigned to following school buses that have problems with people passing them at bus stops," Strickland said.

Road activity should die down after a few weeks, he added.

Gainesville police Sgt. Dean Staples said he would urge motorists particularly to "be mindful of school buses while they are out" and make sure to stop for buses picking up children.

"The biggest problem we have is people passing school buses on five-lane roads, such as Thompson Bridge Road," Staples said.

"Once the bus stops on the far side, people on the other side think they don’t have to stop because they are so far away from (the bus). They do have to stop unless it’s a divided highway."

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