At the new Micro Elementary School on Monday, students filed off the bus, each with a little hop on the final step. They carried shiny new lunchboxes and hefted bookbags packed with supplies. They were ready for their first day, a new experience for all of them.
All of the youngsters, and even the teachers, were newbies to the school, which welcomed 320 students to the former North Johnston Middle School campus on East Main Street. The Johnston County Board of Education created Micro Elementary out of what had been the Micro-Pine Level Elementary attendance.
While Micro students acclimated to their new campus, the rest of Johnston County was headed back to school too.
Johnston started the 2016-17 school year with 34,029 students, 1,098 more students than on Day 1 of last year. That increase was in keeping with years past, with Johnston growing the equivalent of one school every year. By Day 2, an enrollment had grown to 34,631 students, up from 34,081 the year before.
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The first day day back for students went pretty smoothly, with just a few hiccups, school officials said.
“We have had a few bumps in the road, a few buses late, some students without schedules,” Superintendent Ross Renfrow said on the first day. “However, overall it has been a tremendous day. I appreciate the students, parents, staff and administration for making today goes as smoothly as it has. Our goal tomorrow is for it to go even smoother.”
For Renfrow, Monday began much like it did for many Johnston parents, early and with a student in the car. But before dropping his son off at Archer Lodge Middle School, Renfrow stopped first at Corinth Holders Elementary, then Corinth Holders High School. He would go on to visit every school in the county.
In skipping his office for his driver’s seat on one of the red-letter days on every school calendar, Renfrow said he could have more of an impact out in the field.
“I think that’s what a superintendent should do,” he said. “It would be real easy to sit back and stay in the office today, but I think that’s what senior leadership is for. They can sit back and field any concerns from parents and teachers and principals. But I think our students and parents and teachers and anyone else who can make up stakeholders needs to see that the superintendent generally cares, not about photo opportunities, but anything I can do to help today. ... (This job) is about being with the people, being the leader, being seen and being visible.”
In visiting 40 schools, Renfrow logged 175 miles and needed every second of the school day, starting at 6:40 a.m. at Corinth Holders Elementary and wrapping up just after 4 in the afternoon.
At Clayton Middle School, Renfrow answered emails from his car, then rang the school’s doorbell, needing to get buzzed in by the front office. He said the first day is the when the school system grades itself on what it anticipated and on how able it is to react on the fly.
“What’s going to happen today that we didn’t plan for? What was supposed to happen last week that didn’t happen?” Renfrow said. “You just pray that those things are minimized so that it doesn’t prevent schools and teachers from doing their job and doesn’t prevent students from learning.”
Thinking back to his second year as principal of North Johnston High School, Renfrow said he’ll never forget having to suspend a student on the first day. When he called the mom, he didn’t hear much contrition on the other end, with her suggesting Renfrow just wasn’t up to the challenge.
“She said, ‘I dealt with it every day this summer and didn’t call you one time for help, and the first day of school, and it’s not even a full day yet, and you’re calling me because you can’t handle my son,’ ” Renfrow said.
This first day of school was Renfrow’s first as superintendent, after taking over for retired superintendent Ed Croom in the spring. Here are some numbers from that first day:
▪ 34,029 students, up 1,098 from last year’s first day total of 32,931.
▪ 2,710 teachers, counselors, nurses, social workers, principals and other staff members.
▪ 48 visiting international faculty.
▪ 271 buses on the road, up from 260 last year.
▪ 23,740 miles traveled by those buses.
▪ 8,074 bus stops.
▪ 17,050 meals served at breakfast and lunch.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson