First day of school: It’s still early, but so far, so good’

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 13, 2001

in the top photo, Redwood Elementary School first-graders Eric Johnson and Felicia Slaughter press their foreheads against the bus window as they arrive for the first day of school Monday. In the lower photo, Redwood Elementary School 4th-grader Jason Sherrill, left, holds a sign as teachers Liz Fletcher, center, and Therese Hood rev the students with cheers before entering their classrooms. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[08/13/01] Will Stegall got his first test of the 2001-2002 academic year before classes even started at Redwood Elementary School Monday morning.

“My smile is beautiful,” Will said, satisfying speech therapist Cherie Kilgo’s request that he demonstrate his reading skills by making out the message on a sticker she was distributing to students.

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But Will, 7, wasn’t flaunting his beauty the 2nd-grader’s face remained grim as he and 410 other students reported to Redwood for the first day of classes in the Vicksburg Warren School District. About 9,300 reported districtwide, some clad in uniforms for the first time, and school officials said the early going was smooth.

“It’s still early, but so far, so good,” said Superintendent Donald Oakes, a 1957 Redwood graduate who spent the first 30 minutes of the school day at his alma mater. Oakes said he planned to visit each of the VWSD’s 11 school buildings Monday morning.

He was joined by city and county elected officials at Redwood, where students from kindergarten to the 4th grade wear red and blue uniforms and attend classes with themes of character education and patriotism. The city board Mayor Laurence Leyens and Aldermen Gertrude Young and Sid Beauman was on hand, along with Warren County Supervisors Richard George, Bill Lauderdale and David McDonald.

The officials took part in a flag-waving pep rally, with teachers yelling cheers to welcome students from buses.

“We love Redwood; yes, we do, we love Redwood, how ’bout you?” they chanted.

Judy Williams, theme coordinator at Redwood, said the rally was planned to ease students into their first day, which is often characterized by weeping children and parents.

“We’re excited, and we think they should be, too,” Williams said.

Will was one of the only students who didn’t show enthusiasm on the way to classrooms.

Asked why he wasn’t smiling, he said, “I don’t know, I didn’t like first grade.”

Across the district, few students or teachers wore frowns.

At Vicksburg Intermediate School, Principal James Price mugged for pictures with students. He said he was relieved to see a lower-than-expected turnout at his school, which covers all 5th- and 6th-graders who live in the Vicksburg High district.

“We really thought we had a bumper crop, but now it looks like everybody’s going to be all right,” Price said. Only one class in the 838-student school was full. It usually takes about a week for school rolls to match attendance.

Price said all students he had seen were complying with the school’s uniform policy. Six of the district’s seven elementary schools and Warren Central Junior High have rules governing student attire this year.

The enrollment of about 9,300 the exact figure won’t be known until Monday afternoon is largely unchanged from last year, when about 9,400 reported for the first day.

While classes began in public schools, Warren County’s two biggest private schools Vicksburg Catholic School and Porters Chapel Academy were also seeing their first students of the year. Students at St. Aloysius High School, the upper component of Vicksburg Catholic, also attended a short orientation session Friday.