For some school principals, today’s opening of classes for the 2019-20 year marked something extra beyond an annual return to school.
Among them: Rome Catholic School Principal Nancy Wilson, overseeing RCS back at its longtime 800 Cypress St. facility after three years at another site, and Staley Elementary School Principal Michael Davis, resuming as a principal after being superintendent in a smaller district.
“We’re so excited...so good to be back here,” Wilson said this morning while outside RCS awaiting students’ arrivals at the pre-K to grade 6 school. “It just feels like it’s home.” RCS had been at 800 Cypress St. since the building opened in 1963, but moved in 2016 to the smaller 400 Floyd Ave. site of the former St. Peter’s school as enrollment declined. This year RCS enrollment has grown from 104 to about 175 though being able to accept an expanded number of pre-K students in conjunction with the Rome school district’s program.
Davis, meanwhile, said this morning he was “ready to go....It’ll be fun” as he waited for arriving students to get off buses at Staley. The former superintendent of the Madison Central School District for the past 2 1/2 years and an elementary principal in the Oriskany school district for four years before that, he said “it’s good to be back with the kids” and not at the “50,000-foot level” where “you look at everything else” too. He added “it’s nice to be back down in it.”
In first-day activities at the two schools:
• As parent Danette Broughton took photos of her 9-year-old daughter Isabelle outside the RCS entrance, she noted Isabelle was “excited to come back...her old school” as a fourth-grader after being in pre-K and kindergarten at the Cypress Street location and then in grades 1-3 at the Floyd Avenue site.
Describing the Cypress Street facility as Isabelle’s “old stomping ground,” Danette Broughton said “we love this school....Rome is home....Rome Catholic is a sweet school.” Isabelle added that being back at the building was “great...really exciting.”
RCS teacher Devyn Fisher, who has grades 5 and 6, said it was her fourth year at the school and her first at Cypress Street. But she observed that her father Kevin Fisher graduated from the former Rome Catholic High School (RCH), while her best friend in college was in the last RCH graduating class. Programs for grades 7-12 shifted to the Notre Dame school of Utica in 2013.
In Fisher’s classroom, sixth-grader Zachary Earl and fifth-grader Cooper Goetz both had been RCS students at the Cypress Street building before the move to the Floyd Avenue site. Earl said he knew the Cypress Street location previously had been in use for over 40 years, and was “older than me.” He and Goetz both cited the building’s much larger size and “more space” for activities, including outdoors as well.
Before heading to their classrooms, K-6 students went into the RCS chapel for prayers led by Wilson. The new school year is “off to a very good start,” said Wilson, adding that she hoped students would take the time to meet new friends.
Among the prayers printed on papers for students to read was this daily prayer: “Dear God, help me spend today with a smile on my face, love in my heart, joy in His grace, and my thinking cap on all day. Amen”
• At Staley, where Davis said enrollment was about 605 students in grades K-6, students in K-2 gathered in the auditorium before heading to their classrooms while grades 3-6 initially gathered in the gymnasium.
Among teachers meeting their students in the gym was Audrey Cehonski, who said she has taught at Staley for about 12 years overall and currently has fourth-graders after starting there as a sixth-grade teacher. Staley became a K-6 school for the 2017-18 year, after previously hosting all of the school district's fifth- and sixth-graders for several years before that.
When asked about the transitions, Cehonski said they were hard but the "best part about Staley" is the "people here" that she works with. She added "we always say 'Staley strong....,'" and the people there work things out.
One of her students, Natalie Drummond, exclaimed "I'm excited and nervous at the same time" about the first day of school. She said "I love school" and loves learning plus going to the library, adding "I've got a million books at home." Cehonski told her "we do lots of reading."
Another Staley teacher, Mercedes Mills, had a message on a large screen awaiting her third-grade students as they arrived in her classroom: "Hey there 3rd graders we are going to have a great year."
Mills told students their "first job" was to have some "fun with 'Play-Doh,'" inviting them to work with the modeling compound at their desks. She joined in the fun, putting on a "bracelet" she made from the compound and telling students it was "worth millions of dollars."
Mills explained afterward that a good friend told her the "best way to get kids talking" is to "give them something to build...something to talk about," plus she added with a smile "and Mrs. Mills loves 'Play-Doh.'''
Students then had a chance to talk about what they had built with the compound and get into the running for small "participation prize" items like pencils. The discussions then moved on to Mills addressing classroom supplies and having students talk about they did over the summer, along with classroom practices for the new school year.
In the Rome school district, today was the start of classes for 2019-20 for all but grade 8 and grades 10-12. They will start Friday.