Lafayette Parish schools expected to welcome even more students onto their already crowded campuses as thousands of kids started the first day of the academic year Thursday.
Although a preliminary enrollment count wasn’t available Thursday, school officials said early indications were that enrollment could be at or slightly above last year’s numbers.
The school year ended in May with about 30,000 students enrolled in Lafayette schools.
Kindergarten students don’t start school until next week. At least 93 new students enrolled in public schools Thursday from charter schools, school officials said in a news release.
“The first couple of days, it’s in flux,” Superintendent Donald Aguillard said Thursday morning. “Kids usually straggle in the first couple of days, but I’m optimistic that we’ll still see an increase.”
The school system tackled first day transportation issues, and the call center for bus questions remains available to parents at (337) 521-RIDE.
Addressing school facilities is on the top of Aguillard’s back-to-school list. As he walked the campus of Lafayette High early Thursday morning, Aguillard remarked that he taught there for summer school earlier in his career. Not much has changed.
“I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t think our buildings need help,” Aguillard said as he walked between brick buildings on the campus.
Aguillard started his day at Lafayette High — where about 2,500 students were expected to begin the school year. In the high school lobby, new principal Donald Thornton directed new students to their classrooms, looking up teacher room numbers for them.
Sophomore Kendrell Walker transferred to Lafayette High from Northside, where she had been enrolled in the school’s legal studies academy.
“I’m a little nervous because I feel it’s going to be a bunch of work, work, work,” Walker said as she walked to her homeroom class.
As Aguillard visited classrooms, the first-day-of-school excitement seemed to wane among older students. Most freshmen classes visited at Lafayette High stayed silent as Aguillard asked them if they were ready for the start of school.
“Raise your hand if you’re excited to be here today,” Aguillard prodded one quiet class. No hands went up.
Aguillard reassured one freshmen class that change is difficult and they’ve started at a large school — with about 2,500 students expected on the campus.
“You know you’re attending the largest high school in Louisiana. We’re expecting about 2,500 students. I think you’ll like Lafayette High. They have outstanding teachers here and several organizations and activities. I think you’ll find something you’ll like,” he told another class.
“Extra point to anyone who knows who this man is?” Lafayette High teacher Joel Armentor asked his homeroom students as he gestured toward Aguillard, who stood in the middle of the classroom.
“Dr. Leonard!” one student guessed, referencing the former principal of the school who retired this summer.
“No, he’s probably still sleeping,” Armentor said. No one earned points.
It was Aguillard’s first day of school as superintendent in Lafayette Parish — his face still fresh to many, but especially students who likely don’t keep up with the operations of the school system.
After responding excitedly to Aguillard’s questions, second-graders at Myrtle Place Elementary had their own for their visitor.
“Are you the president of everything?” one student asked him.
After similar questions, Aguillard took the time to explain to them what his job title was and what it meant.
“I’m the principal of all the principals,” he said. “I sign all the paychecks, and I hire all the teachers.”
Second-grader Madison Dennis, 7, quickly clasped her hand over her mouth at that response.
“Did you hire my teacher?” she asked.
“In a roundabout way — yes,” Aguillard said.
Her eyes grew wide and her hand quickly returned to cover her mouth and hide her smile.
Aguillard visited several schools Thursday and central office staff fanned out across the parish to provide extra help to campuses on the first day.
“My phone’s not blowing up, so that’s a good sign,” Aguillard said about 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Some schools have new principals, including Lafayette Middle, where Allison El Koubi greeted each student with a handshake as they exited the school bus.
The principal’s refrain of “Good morning!” to each student was sometimes joined with a little start-of-school direction: “Tuck in your shirt. Step to the side.” Students would then step out of the trail of disembarking students, where teacher William Martin would ensure that they tucked their shirttails into their waistbands.
“I’m excited about the new year. I think you’ve got an excellent principal,” Aguillard told Lafayette Middle staff during their morning meeting before the students arrived.
The teachers began snapping their fingers.
“What’s that?” Aguillard asked.
“It’s silent applause,” El Koubi explained.
More snaps came after Aguillard praised the school’s new assistant principal, Rollan Moore, whom Aguillard said was wanted by every principal who had an assistant opening.
“We’ve got to help kids make good decisions,” he said, and pledged support in helping to raise the school’s scores. “There is so much potential. ... Please believe we’re going to do everything we can to help.”
The sound of snapping fingers followed Aguillard as he walked out of the school’s auditorium.
Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.