SPRING HILL — Plan all you like, but there are always surprises on the first day of school. Kids go astray, and extras show up unannounced. Once in a while, even a tropical storm makes an appearance.
All hands were on deck Monday as the Hernando County Schools kicked off the new year.
An hour after first bell at brand-new Explorer K-8, parents were still arriving with their children, and the county's top administrators were there to meet them. At superintendent Wayne Alexander's request, every central office employee who could leave their desks was out in the schools to help out on the first day.
"Where is the office?" asked one parent, as maintenance director Ken Hill and professional development director Barbara Kidder pointed the way.
As that family was arriving, School Board secretary Robin Bayus was escorting a sad-looking kindergartener out the door and back to the bus he arrived on.
"He just got off at the wrong school," she explained.
Inside, the school was grappling with an unexpectedly large group of unregistered students. About 150 students and parents stood in lines snaking through the library. One boy sat in the corner reading an oversized copy of Curious George, oblivious to the airport-like scene.
Parent Jason Rhodes said he had visited the school's open house and met his 10-year-old son's teacher. But on Monday his son wasn't on the class list.
"We've been here about an hour and a half," he said with a grim smile. "What can you do?"
Officials said a few of those students were victims of a computer glitch in this summer's school boundary rezoning — assigned to Explorer but not officially released from previous old schools. But others were making their first appearance at the school.
"Most of these kids haven't registered yet," said principal Dominick Ferello. "It's their first time here."
Still, he said, most students made it to their classrooms smoothly. "To me it looks extremely organized."
Officially, 1,737 students attended Explorer Monday, compared with a projected first-day enrollment of 1,759, said business services director Heather Martin.
But that number only includes those who were present at the start of homeroom, so those in the media center weren't counted, she said.
Districtwide, 20,872 students were counted — significantly less than the 22,832 projected figure, Martin said. But officials cautioned that first-day enrollment numbers aren't perfectly reliable and usually grow.
Over at J.D. Floyd K-8 School of Environmental Science, all was quiet at lunchtime, with principal Joe Clifford presiding over an orderly group of middle school students.
Then administrators' cell phones started going off. Schools would be closed today due to the pending arrival of Tropical Storm Fay with gale-force winds of 47 mph or more, and the need to prepare shelters, said security director Barry Crowley.
A decision on whether to close the schools Wednesday wouldn't be made immediately, he said. "It depends on the track of the storm."
Standing over a pool of spilled yogurt in the J.D. Floyd cafeteria and gesturing for a mop, Clifford said he would likely head over to West Hernando Middle School at day's end to prepare the special-needs hurricane shelter there.
"Then I'll go home and set up my place," he said.
By 2:30 p.m. at West Hernando, parents were lined up in their cars to pick up their children. Many hadn't heard the storm was still headed their way.
"I thought the storm had dissipated," said Gary Streily of Spring Hill. "(But) we're prepared."
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.