Westport kids storm back to school on first day of classes
Updated 6:59 am, Friday, September 2, 2011
Two days later than scheduled, the doors of yellow school buses finally flung open Thursday morning outside Saugatuck Elementary School on the first day of the 2011-12 school year for Westport's public schools.
Even though power-restoration and cleanup operations after Tropical Storm Irene continued around town, the familiar routine of the first day of classes played out. Kindergarteners with bemused expressions tiptoed off the buses, while the older students strode off with their heads held high.
The scene was repeated across town as about 5,800 students were expected to turn out for the first day of classes at the town's eight schools.
"Good morning, how are you? Do you know where you're going?" Saugatuck Principal Julie Droller asked a youngster toting a bright blue backpack and wearing pristine Nike sneakers.
The student shook his head.
"Let's see, I think I can help," Droller said. "You're in Mrs. Byrne's class. Dr. Wendy will help you find where you're going."
Droller then guided the student to special education teacher Wendy Sobelman, who took his hand and led him into the building.
Aside from the first day being pushed back from Tuesday to Thursday, Droller said Tropical Storm Irene had not significantly affected other aspects of the new school year.
"The key is flexibility," she said. "We're here and everybody is safe, and we're just ready for a great first day and a great first year."
Thursday was also the first official day on the job for Droller at Saugatuck Elementary. She previously was the principal at Veterans Park Elementary School in Ridgefield.
"This district has a great reputation, and I'm just excited to be here," she said. "It's good to get out of your comfort zone and see a new district and another way of doing things. I think it will be mutually rewarding."
Saugatuck Elementary, which has an enrollment this year of approximately 525 students, will implement new programs in math, science and reading. Along with the other seven schools in the Westport school system, Saugatuck Elementary is also participating in a new long-term curriculum initiative, Westport Education 2025, which will focus on developing students' critical thinking skills.
"I'm really excited about Westport Education 2025," said Sobelman, the district's 2009 teacher of the year. "I think it will really help special education students to develop essential 21st century skills."
Assistant Superintendent for Business Nancy Harris also arrived to greet Saugatuck students on their first day. She said that every school in the district has had its power restored.
She added that the opening day postponement would not extend the school year because the school district builds three days of closures into its annual academic schedule.
"While the delay is a little blip on the radar, you can tell everybody is ready," she said. "The faculty, staff, and students have all come back energized for the new year."