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Deck the halls with sounds of children

By Alex Bridges and M.K. Luther -- news@nvdaily.com

Most area public schools resumed classes Wednesday -- a day officials called smooth and easy.

Faces both familiar and new inaugurated Greenwood Mill Elementary School -- Frederick County's newest school. The school combines pupils from the former Senseny Road Elementary with some who would have attended Red Bud Run and Evendale elementary schools.

The school's librarian, Jeffrey Mueller, helped pupils find their buses at the end of the day. Beside him stood his daughter, Zoe, who attends morning kindergarten at the school.

"It's running very well for us so we're happy," said Mueller, who transferred to the facility after having taught at James Wood High School. "It's a big change for me, too."

Justine and Brandon Salyer walked their daughter, Kaitlyn, also a kindergartner, from school.

"She had a great day. Didn't get into any trouble on her first day of school," Brandon Salyer said.

"It's nice. It's pretty big," fourth-grader Clay Stopha said of the new school.

Clay's mother, Carmen, a reading specialist at the school, said: "It's just been a wonderful experience. We're very blessed to have this beautiful facility."

At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Frederick County Superintendent Patricia Taylor credited faculty, staff, students, parents and the community for making the first day a smooth one. Law enforcement helped maintain the safety of the schools, especially Greenwood Mill, which features the system's first walk zone, she said.

"I think we've had a chance to confer and ingrain that this has been a very smooth opening for us," Taylor said, adding that "the enthusiasm for instruction was very high."

Clarke County Public Schools also started classes Wednesday.

"Five letters describe the first day of school: G-R-E-A-T -- like 'Tony the Tiger,'" said Superintendent Michael Murphy. "Typical challenges of the first day of school: transportation woes, traffic backups, lunch lines, student schedules, attendance."

Clarke County this year moved second-graders from Berryville Primary to D.G. Cooley Elementary School. The transition has gone well.

In Winchester, students and faculty did not have to experience any major construction inside John Handley High School for the first time in several years.

"I was very pleased," Superintendent Richard "Ricky" Leonard said. "In all my observations everything went extremely smooth."

Like many education officials in the area, Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Pamela McInnis spent the day making visits to the system's eight schools and said the beginning of the year went off without a hitch.

"Things were very calm and kids were learning already, and I didn't see any criers -- there were some reports of criers, but those were mommas," McInnis said, referring to the parents of the schools' large kindergarten and first-grade population.

"Of course, we will know it has been an excellent day when all the buses get home," McInnis said.

The county schools are starting the year with a full teaching staff, McInnis said, and a first-grade class was added to A.S. Rhodes Elementary School to accommodate an increase in the school's enrollment.

More than 5,000 pupils attended the first day, according to McInnis. The estimated initial enrollment for 2009-10 is 5,199 -- an increase of 102 pupils from the previous year, McInnis said. She said she expects enrollment to increase by as many as 200 pupils in the first few weeks of the term when families return from summer vacation.

"We are starting on a Wednesday and I think we will see an influx on Monday and after Labor Day," McInnis said.

Clarke County schools reported that 2,219 pupils came to classes Wednesday, a number Murphy said is likely too high and may have been calculated incorrectly by a new system officials recently began to use.

Winchester Public Schools reported 3,715 pupils the first day. The number not surprisingly falls below the projected membership, Leonard said, and likely will rise after Labor Day.

Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Al Orndorff said Greenwood Mill Elementary School opened with 762 pupils, compared to the projected 780. The system had 12,716 pupils in attendance, he said, which is 125 more than a year ago. The total falls short of the 13,092 officials projected as the Sept. 15 enrollment. But Orndorff noted the system sees its enrollment fluctuate during the year.

Public school pupils in Shenandoah County will return to classes Sept. 8.

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