• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

School year begins for Woodford County students

SIMMONS ELEMENTARY School teacher Telia Arnold was busy decorating her door with different colored fish as she and other teachers got their classrooms ready for students this morning, Thursday, Aug. 9 – the first day of classes in Woodford County schools. Arnold described her “Under the Sea” theme as a way to create a calm and relaxing classroom environment for her first- and second-graders. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

The 2018-19 school year officially begins for around 4,000 students in Woodford County Public Schools this morning, Thursday, Aug. 9.

Teachers across the district were busy last week getting their classrooms ready for the new school year.

“It’s exciting,” said Telia Arnold, beginning her second year at Simmons Elementary School. “I like getting ready for what’s to come this year… I’m excited to meet the kids that I’m going to be with for the next year.” Schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said the district’s focus on literacy and working together to get better in the classroom will continue this year. “Because when your teachers – when your experts – really focus in on those clear objectives, then your students benefit daily in the classroom,” he explained.

“If we do those really, really, really well,” he added, “good things will happen. And I think we are seeing that.”

Southside Elementary School will take a different approach to delivering enrichment and gifted services to students this year, Principal Jason McAlister said. He said the changes will offer more leadership and creative opportunities for students.

Hawkins said having clear expectations for students in both academics and behavior improves the culture of a school and leads to better performance in the classroom. Equipping teachers with proven classroom strategies leads to their students having success, he added. Tiffany Cook, starting her third year as Simmons Elementary School’s principal, said all of the pieces are coming together to continue building on reading strategies and “number sense” – what students know about numbers and how to manipulate them.

Efforts will also continue to help students who have experienced trauma in their lives. Addressing those issues will allow them to perform at higher levels in the classroom, Hawkins said.

With 20 minutes set aside for character education every morning, Cook said students will learn how to regulate their emotions and calm themselves when they’re angry, scared or anxious. “We know that we need to make sure they have all their basic needs met, but they also need to have their emotional needs met in order for us to be able to (do our job),” she added.

“They can’t learn if they’re worried about something. They can’t learn if they’re anxious,” Cook said. Safety will remain a priority with school resource officers (SRO) in every building. Prior to this year, SROs (from the Versailles Police Department) were assigned to the middle and high schools. They will remain this year.

Newly-hired SROs for the elementary schools and Safe Harbor Academy are employees of the school district, but will receive training through a partnership with the local police department and be ready to begin day one, Hawkins said.

“You want to try to put everything in place that you possibly can to make your buildings as safe as they can be. This is one more thing.

With (these officers) being a physical presence, I think that’s a huge positive,” he said.

The salary cost for having five additional SROs will be $250,000 to $275,000 annually and “all of them have law enforcement experience,” Hawkins said.

Soon, Simmons Elementary School will have a redesigned visitor entry so everyone who wants access to the building will need to sign in before they are allowed into the office area. “This will add that extra layer of ‘yes, we know who’s here before they actually ever get into the office,” said Hawkins.

While secure school entrances and SROs are important, he described building positive relationships with students and families as a proactive approach to creating a culture where everyone feels comfortable speaking out if they see or hear something that concerns them.

Our SRO is “another positive male role model,” said Cook. “It’s another adult in the building. And it’s extra security, but more than anything it’s (about) building relationships and making a positive relationship” with our students.

Hawkins said every one of Woodford County Public Schools’ 550 fulltime employees – bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and countless others – has an important role in a student’s experience.

Entering his 11th year here and 31st overall, Hawkins said there’s still nothing like the excitement of the first day of school.

“We’re always excited about making this year the best year – it’s our goal every year,” said McAlister.

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