Saturday, February 17, 2018
Education

A day of firsts for Hillsborough students, some principals

TAMPA

A teaching assistant tried to coax a smile from a reluctant child. Parents led kids across the street, outside the crosswalk.

Principal Christine Hanjian eyed one situation Tuesday morning and corrected the other. In one hand she clutched a radio. In the other? Granola bars for the bus drivers.

"Have a good day, sweetie," she told a student she had met at Woodbridge Elementary School's open house. "Good morning, good morning, buenos dias," she told the physical education instructor, the PTA president, the fifth-grade single-gender class teacher.

It was the start of the school year in Hillsborough County and, for Hanjian, the first day as principal.

•••

The public schools welcomed 181,492 students on Tuesday, a slight increase over last year.

Work began at 6 a.m. for superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who visited Plant High School and about a dozen other schools before noon.

At Plant, Elia touted a student-led reading lab that will open in September. At Lomax Elementary School, she posed for a photo with a kindergarten student.

There were 700 newly hired teachers and, as at Woodbridge, new principals as well. Some were pulled from the assistant principal ranks as part of a training and recruitment project called Principal Pipeline, which promoted some principals to coaching positions.

The coaches stay close by, and Holly Saia — former principal of Shaw Elementary – was with Hanjian on Tuesday as backup.

In Riverview, rookie principal Derrick McLauglin wondered how Summerfield Elementary would handle an increase in the number of children who walked instead of riding the bus.

The transition went smoothly, he said at the end of the day. "We are off to a great start!"

At Gaither High, students were greeted by the smell of fresh paint after summer renovations.

At Frost Elementary in Riverview, kindergarten teachers Holly Cover and Jamy Daily-Herman made do with donated materials and a shared classroom three weeks after a fire caused $400,000 in damage.

"Every school year brings new challenges," Cover said. "This year just has more. But we're going to rebuild and be better than before."

A call center crew took more than 2,000 transportation calls, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Some morning buses ran late after Monday night's rainstorm knocked a sign down on Davis Islands. That delayed one magnet bus, and the others had to wait for it. Some students were not expected to arrive home until after 6 p.m. due to traffic and weather delays. The last magnet buses left the 40th Street ramp at 4:55 p.m.

At Woodbridge, with a bus still out after 8 a.m., Hanjian wanted to make a brief morning show announcement. "Should we wait a few minutes?" she wondered.

She wanted to get on with the day. She wanted the learning to begin.

•••

At 51, Hanjian is from Wisconsin, the daughter of a schoolteacher. She's married with two children, the younger one just starting college.

She began her career in physical education, taught nearly every elementary school grade and was most recently the assistant principal at Cannella Elementary School. Her goal Tuesday was to see and be seen, but not get in the way of instruction.

"I want to be visible for everybody and supportive of every teacher," she said.

There would be time later to take stock of the school's strengths and areas where it could improve, to figure the place out. "Each school has a little different dynamic," she said.

Already she's working on a business partnership with Winn-Dixie that will result in birthday parties at lunchtime and a math night for families at the Town 'N Country school.

"We would like to work on their math scores," she said.

•••

Outside at 2:15 p.m., cars lined up for blocks. Crossing guards stood, smiling, at opposite ends of an intersection. Safety patrol children raised flags at a crosswalk as parents waited for a gate to open.

Inside the mood was more harried as teachers, administrators and secretaries worked to get the children dismissed.

"The big thing is to make sure everyone gets home safely," Hanjian said earlier in the day. Doing so, as in any school on day one, required careful coordination and some phone calls home.

Hanjian had been there since 5:30 a.m. She was pretty sure she'd be there past 4:30 p.m.

Saia, her coach, pronounced the day a success. "I stayed in touch with all my new principals," she said. "They all were very excited about their first day."

Staff writers Elisabeth Parker and Elizabeth Behrman contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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