Purdy schools see attendance spike

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
New Purdy Elementary School Principal Julie Dalton stood at the entrance of the school on Wednesday as classes opened, exchanging “high fives” with students as they arrived for the first day of classes. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Teachers enthusiastic to greet students, start classes

The Purdy school district had a most curious opening day last year, as the school saw an attendance spike not found this year.

Attendance in 2016 went up by 41 over 2015, only to drop 34 in a month. The Sept. 30 count last year, the one used for public funding purposes, totaled 644.

Purdy faculty member Margo Schlessman, center, provided directions for second grader Violet Wolf, left, accompanied by fifth grader Eryn Schlessman, as they headed in for the first day of school on Wednesday. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Opening day numbers this year tallied 643 on Aug .16, reflecting the district picked up where last year left off.

Faculty and reading coaches, all wearing matching "Purdy SOAR" T-shirts, greeted students warmly as they arrived on Wednesday. Julie Dalton, the new elementary principal, stood at the front door exchanging "high fives" with students as they entered, telling them, "You're awesome!"

There were a share of students in tears, not wanting their parents to leave, or struggling to find their place. Teachers were there to console and cajole.

Fifth grader Bailey Belle, center, worked his way through the head of the food line in the cafeteria at Purdy Schools for breakfast on the first day of school on Wednesday. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

"The first day is the one day a year when tears are OK," said Superintendent Steven Chancellor.

Chancellor detected fewer tears this year, which he credited to the growing number of students transitioning from the preschool into the kindergarten.

Organizationally, Chancellor credited the advance work of Susan Funkhouser in the administrative office with handling pre-enrollment, paperwork, tracking records for shots and school transcripts ahead of the first day, part of a heavy investment in advance work.

The first day of school has a different kind of excitement for seniors, preparing for their big moment on top of the mountain. From left, Emma Mareth, Cailyn Spears, Hallie Henderson, Emily Webb and Sierra Moore reviewed their mixed emotions that morning as the big day arrived. Murray Bishoff Cassville Democrat

Dalton and Derek Banwart, the new high school principal, both took on visible roles during the first day. Chancellor said at all grade levels, the faculty is emphasizing positive behavior interventions and supports this year.

Students above elementary gathered in the gym to open school for an assembly led by Banwart. Teachers were introduced and games played to set a tone for the day. Banwart later visited with each grade level, walking students through expectations. One change this year, Chancellor noted, is discontinuation of using cell phones.

"There's a buzz around, all the adults talking about how organized and efficient things are," Chancellor said. "Students know where to be. There's a really neat feeling here right now."

If there was one thing that did not work that smoothly on opening day, it was switching where cars drop off and pick up students. Extra cars on opening day overwhelmed the initial move from the east side of the building to the new entrance into the gym on the north side. The old system had cars blocking the route needed for buses to circle the building and let off students on the west side of Gabby Gibbons Drive.

Chancellor said as the load after first day diminished, the switch seemed to work better. He said the gym entrance is bigger and should allow more than one vehicle to load at the same time, speeding up the process. Using one door also gives faculty a better view of students coming and going, making observation easier.

Purdy also had the good fortune of seeing the kindergarten numbers jump by the largest increase of any class. The biggest class in the district was the fourth graders at 61, and the smallest was the sixth graders at 39. The elementary school saw a total dip in numbers by six, while the high school dropped by 11.

Opening day numbers follow, with a comparison to last year's first day: Kindergarten, 54 (+13); first, 46 (same); second, 45 (-6); third, 46 (-22); fourth, 61 (+9); fifth, 53 (+6); sixth, 39 (-24); seventh, 60 (+3); eighth, 55 (+8); ninth, 44 (+1); 10th, 46 (-10); 11th, 51 (-4); 12th, 48 (+2).

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