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First day of school declared a success: PUSD enrollment appears to be on the rise

Principal Clark Tenney opens the doors for the first day of the 2016-17 school year at Abia Judd Elementary School in Prescott Thursday morning, Aug. 4.
Photo by Les Stukenberg.

Principal Clark Tenney opens the doors for the first day of the 2016-17 school year at Abia Judd Elementary School in Prescott Thursday morning, Aug. 4.

PRESCOTT – A parade of mothers and fathers holding hands with kindergartners sporting Star Wars and Dory backpacks, or snapping cell phone pictures of their more mature third- and fourth-graders in khakis and sport-themed shirts, entered Abia Judd Elementary School on Thursday morning, Aug. 4.

The still-summer weather smiled on students and their families as they walked up the front sidewalk to what for some was their very first day in school ever, and for others was a return to familiar faces and the expectation of new things to learn.

‘First Day’ ahead:

Humboldt Unified School District – Monday, Aug. 8

Chino Valley Unified School District – Tuesday, Aug. 9

Mayer Unified School District – Monday, Aug. 15

Dressed in an all-green, shorts and T-shirt outfit with neon green sneakers and a Captain America backpack, Baylor Anderson stayed close to his mother, Jessica, as he ventured forth to his kindergarten classroom. A bit shy, Baylor wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

“I don’t know,” he said as he looked to his mother for reassurance.

Anderson admitted sending the older of her two boys off to his first day prompted a little anxiety.

“It’s a little hard,” Anderson said even as she resisted tears with a broad smile for her son’s sake.

Second-grader Blake Lawler stepped off one of the first arriving buses with a group of friends, all of them animated and clearly ready to walk through those front doors.

“It’s going to be fun,” Blake declared. “I like this school. You get to do a lot of fun stuff.”

One of his bus mates, third-grader Chase Lewis, was headed to Abia Judd for the first time.

“I feel good,” said Chase, who was wearing a Star Wars-themed backpack. “I feel like it will be really fun. I got on the bus and I’ve already made some friends.”

Just inside the front door, Principal Clark Tenney greeted students and parents, stooping down to ask one timid little girl, “How are you, my friend?”

Even before school started, Tenney was full of expectations for a great year with enrollment on the rise and passionate, skilled teachers who infuse students with a desire to succeed. The AZ Merit scores indicated that their students are mastering this state’s educational standards, he said.

As a 25-year educator who graduated from Prescott High, Tenney he is always excited to start a new year.

“We’re a community school, and we take everybody who crosses through the front door … and we wrap our arms around all of them, and we rock it. This feels like a family to me.”

As with any first day of school, the Prescott Unified School District was not immune to some teary-eyed students, and parents, misplaced backpacks and forgotten supplies, as well as a fair share of parking and bus traffic hassles.

Yet, as it is on most first days, there was plenty of excitement, be it that first-timer finding a floor seat on a colored jigsaw puzzle as an opening activity or for the Prescott High School seniors who celebrated their first, last day with a before-sunrise breakfast on the school’s front lawn.

“It was early, but it was awesome,” said High School Principal Stephanie Hillig of the 100 or so seniors who attended the breakfast. “It was just great to see them all laughing, and hugging each other, reminiscing, and celebrating the start of their senior year.”

As for the opening for the rest of the ninth- through 12th-grade school, Hillig said this was a happy, energetic day.

Enrollment figures are not final yet, but Hillig said the numbers are well over 1,600. The 2015-16 school year ended in May with just under 1,500 students.

“I could not have asked for it to go any better,” Hillig said of the first day. “It has been a beautiful start to the year. … We’re looking forward to the rest of the year.”

Superintendent Joe Howard spent his day touring all of the schools, welcoming students and staff back to what he has previously pronounced will be a year of academics, adventure and accomplishment.

“Visiting schools is good for the soul,” Howard said. “It’s been a fun day.”

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