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Mary Sheryl Horine asks her children to pose for a photo, a family tradition, on the first day of school Monday. Grace Horine, center, is entering fifth grade, while Carlton, left, and Cole, right, are entering third grade. Photo by Kellen Short

Originally published: 2013-08-20 21:42:30
Last modified: 2013-08-20 21:45:14

Few snags reported on first day of school

Watauga County Schools students returned to classrooms Monday in what administrators characterized as a smooth start to the year.

"It was a great start - very, very smooth," said interim Superintendent David Fonseca, who noted that buses ran without trouble and teaching was already beginning to occur.

Central office staff spread throughout the county to help schools welcome their students, and Fonseca personally visited eight of the nine schools in the first two days. The final school will be visited today.

"All the kids seemed excited, and the parents were very excited," Fonseca said.

The school system is preparing for another "first day" on Monday - the arrival of pre-kindergarten students to four classrooms across the county, he said.

"We're on our toes every day, but next Monday's also a very important day," he said.

Getting to Day 1 is never an easy task.

This summer, the school system hired 33 new teachers: 15 in elementary and middle school, eight at Watauga High, four in exceptional children services and six in fine arts, said Human Resources Director Stephen Martin. A few interviews still remained as of the start of last week.

"We feel like we've got a great group leading into next school year," Martin said at a Watauga County Board of Education meeting last week.

Ensuring that the facilities were ready to hold students also kept Facilities Director Dennis Ray busy during the summer months.

A roof replacement project at Cove Creek School suffered some delays, but is expected to be completed by Sept. 12, Ray said.

Contractors also worked throughout recent weeks to repair the Valle Crucis basement, where cracking support beams caused two classrooms to be displaced at the start of last school year. The problems were repaired temporarily, but a permanent fix was nearing completion last week, Ray said.

A conversion to natural gas at Hardin Park School recently revealed problems with the hot water system that required an estimated $47,000 replacement, Ray said.
The school was able to open Monday with a hot water system dedicated to the cafeteria, but it may take until Aug. 30 to restore hot water service throughout the school, he said.

A mudslide near the central office on Pioneer Trail also has caused difficulties for staff this summer, Ray said. The massive slide took down trees up to nine inches in diameter, but never left school property.

School maintenance employees have been working with county staff to assess long-term solutions, which could cost as much as $1 million, he said.

"We've had a lot of people working over the summer to get ready for the first day," Fonseca said.