GONZALES — The Ascension Parish school system registered 18,951 students on the first day of classes Wednesday, 215 more than last year’s first-day count, said system Public Information Officer Johnnie Balfantz.
Balfantz expects that number to rise slightly once all the adjustments are made.
Spanish Lake Primary, built just two years ago to accommodate about 600 students in ideal circumstances, registered 750 students as of Wednesday.
“We’ve already added two classes of T-building to campus,” said Principal Britt Colon, adding that he will not be surprised to top 800 students once the final count is in.
“We’ve had a plan in place for expansion,” Colon said, pointing out the temporary buildings toward the back of campus. “We can fit a total of six T-buildings, and they’re well-placed. People hear how quiet it is, and say, ‘I can’t believe there are 800 kids on this campus.’”
Spanish Lake was built, in part, to relieve overcrowding at Dutchtown Primary, where Principal Mary McMahan reported adding a new class of kindergarteners.
“We were anticipating 100, but we registered 120 over the summer, so I had to hire a new kindergarten teacher,” McMahan said. “It’s controlled chaos, but as long as it’s controlled, we’re OK.”
The biggest changes in Ascension, however, were at Donaldsonville High and the combined campuses of the new Lowery Middle and Elementary schools.
Six years ago, when the old Lowery Middle and West Ascension Elementary campuses closed, the seventh- and eighth- grade students were moved to T-buildings on Donaldsonville High School’s campus.
This year, those 130 students — and the T-buildings — were moved to Lowery Middle.
“We brought them back home,” said Lowery Middle Principal Monica Hills. “It’s just a better, more suitable learning environment for this age group.”
Eighth-graders Tirane Burnstein, Erica Johnson and Jasmine Collins said they felt a little out of place when they left sixth grade at Lowery to spend their seventh-grade year on DHS’s campus.
“We had to wear navy shirts, but the (high school) kids got to wear different colored shirts,” Burnstein said.
“They got to go places we didn’t get to go,” Collins added.
They’ve been working all summer to get the campus ready, Hills said. “The fire alarms (for the T-buildings) went in yesterday. We’re getting the bells (to change classes) connected right now.”
Otherwise, the reconfiguration has gone smoothly, Hills said. “They just fell back into the routine,” she said. Where before they played second string to high school events, they’ll have their own space and their own identity at Lowery, Hills said.
“And, for the first time, they’ll have their own pep rallies,” she said.
The start of the year went smoothly parishwide, said Superintendent Patrice Pujol.
“We had a phenomenal first day of school,” said Pujol. “Parents did a great job getting their students ready to return to school. I commend our faculty, staff and administrators for working diligently to prepare so that students could be engaged in learning from day one. We look forward to a great school year.”