No, you're not imagining things. The start of a new school year is just a week away.
Columbia County schools go back into session Aug. 4, about the same time as last year. Next year's start will be about a week later, because the school board agreed to push the first day back to Aug. 15 in a compromise with the demands of some parents.
Whenever the school year starts, however, there are still just 180 days of classes scheduled - though more breaks spread throughout the year have slightly squeezed the unbroken block of summertime.
As each school year begins, there are changes and new challenges. This year is perhaps shaping up to start as a year of firsts - and a significant last.
For example, this will be the first year for the new site of Evans Middle School. The county will officially dedicate the new campus on Hereford Farm Road on Aug. 1, within days of handing over the keys to the old Evans Middle School site. Developers are marketing the old site for commerical use.
This also will be the first year for Michele Sherman to serve as principal of Greenbrier Elementary School. The school board shortcut their own hiring rules to bring Sherman from Martinez Elementary School; the idea was to quickly provide a stabilizing leader for Greenbrier, which was beset with awful divisions over the disciplining of former principal Jon Pike.
Consequently, it all will be the first year of a new principal at Martinez Elementary, too. Parents at the school felt like they'd received collateral damage from the Greenbrier incident, and they're right. Greenbrier's problem became theirs when the school board moved Sherman. The good news is the staff and parents at Martinez are involved in selecting her replacement, and will provide solid support for a new leader.
November's election also will mark the first time Columbia County citizens have elected a school board chairman county-wide. Three candidates are vying for the post, which carries no additional authority but will, just by its election mandate, carry a significantly higher profile.
The person elected to that post will cast one of five votes to name a replacement for Superintendent Tommy Price, who is entering his last year as leader of the county's school system. It's an important task: Price is the third-longest-serving superintendent in Columbia County history, and the longest in the post since it became a hired rather than an elected position.
Price's final year as superintendent, and his replacement's first, should be a smooth transition with Price's agreement to stick around for an extra year.
The school system this year will bump up against 22,000 in student enrollment. Add educators and staff, and that makes the school system on any given day nearly three times the size of the county's largest city, with a budget of more than $150 million - representing the largest single budget in Columbia County.
It's a big, expensive operation, but what makes it important is that the future of our community walks through the doors of those 27 public schools on Aug. 4. Here's hoping for a calm, successful and educational year.
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