LAFAYETTE — When thousands of Lafayette Parish students returned to the classroom Monday, it also marked the first day of school for Jessica Thompson — as a teacher.
“I know this is where I’m supposed to be,” Thompson said last week while preparing her second-grade classroom at J.W. Faulk Elementary. “The main thing I like about teaching is that it’s different every day. Every kid is different, and I have to figure out what is best for them.”
After the final bell rang Monday and all the students were gone, she was able to look back on a “perfect first day.”
“Things went very well,” she said after school Monday. “I was actually kind of in awe with the day, at how well it went, how well they listened. I think, knock on wood, it was a perfect first day.”
The day didn’t have any major hiccups elsewhere in the parish either, Superintendent Burnell Lemoine said.
“It was a terrific opening,” Lemoine said.
Preliminary enrollment counts were unavailable Monday, but Lemoine said he expected an increase over last year’s count based on feedback from principals.
Monday also marked the first day for Thibodaux Career and Technical High School in its permanent home at the former Moss Middle School with grades six through 10. The school opened in August 2010 in a temporary site at Acadiana Technical College.
And for Lemoine, it was his final first day of school. The 43-year veteran educator plans to retire in December when his contract expires.
“This is exciting,” Lemoine said while standing in front of Thibodaux. “When you think of 15 years of planning, and today it opens in a real school.”
Thibodaux students can pursue their career interests while earning a high school diploma, college credit and industry-based certification.
“What I liked about it is it sets them up for a career,” Kenneth Carter of Thibodaux said while waiting with his daughter Kennethia before classes Monday. The family moved to the area from Jacksonville, Fla., last year.
“After graduation, instead of starting from scratch, it gives them a head start,” he said.
Kennethia, 13, enjoys science and was a bit nervous to start at her new school.
“It’s so big,” she said.
Thibodaux was one of 13 schools Lemoine visited. He’ll visit the remaining 40 schools Tuesday and Wednesday.
School rounds have been part of Lemoine’s opening day routine as superintendent. With each visit, he meets with principals to see if they have any needs and then takes a short tour of each school, popping into classrooms.
Several teachers and staffers wished him well in his retirement. One student, though, had a mission for him if he spotted her kindergarten teacher.
“Tell Mrs. Gautreaux Isabelle misses her,” requested a Live Oak Elementary first-grader.
After visiting some classes, Lemoine delivered the message.
Other messages got delivered to central office, like pending work orders or other campus needs.
School principals reported “smooth” openings to Lemoine.
It may help that the first day — as Thompson explained — is all about “rules and procedures.”
At Alice Boucher Elementary, second-grade Chinese immersion teacher MingLi Chang instructed her second-grade students in Mandarin on the rules of the classroom.
At J. Wallace James Elementary, students walked one behind the other, finger held over their lips down the hallway.
At Northside High, some of acting Principal Yvonne Zeno’s wishes of good morning were tempered with reminders to tuck in shirts. At times, no words were needed.
“The minute you look at them, they start tucking in their shirts,” Lemoine said to Zeno, chuckling. “You don’t have to say a word.”
Northside has an orientation team of upperclassmen who help show freshmen around campus and remind them of policies.
Juniors Ryan Calais and Jarel Smith, both 16, are part of the orientation team, known as “Link.”
“It’s back to school and back to work,” Smith said. “It’s fun to see everybody, but it’s time to get to work.”
Smith had this advice for the underclassmen: “Make the year worth it. Get involved and make sure you start off good. It’s the small things: be organized.”