SALEMBURG — With crayons in their hands, a group of kindergartners at Salemburg Middle School concentrated on staying within the lines while adding color to the pages.
After a summer break, their teacher Laurie Dunman was excited to see the children while observing their motor skills. It’s one of several classroom activities Dunman and assistant teacher Crystal Matthews will conduct during the year.
“I was up at 5 in the morning, just excited about the kids coming and learning,” said Dunman.
The group of children were just a few students who returned to local classrooms Monday. Currently, there’s more than 8,700 students in the Sampson County School system, but the amount may change in the next few days. According to previous data, Clinton City Schools has more than 3,000. Officials expect to have an accurate account after the 10th day of school.
As parents walked in holding the hands of their children, teacher Erica Sanchez was available to point parents in the right direction.
“I just hope that the kids have a great year,” said Sanchez, an English as a Second Language educator and interpreter.
Parent Shannon White guided her child Jamari White to his class Monday too. She’s looking forward to the upcoming school year.
“He loves his math and he wants to learn more,” White said. “So he’s excited to get back to school.”
Like White, Tasha and Craig Ezzell were also looking forward to the beginning of school. Along with other students, their children Donnie Ezzell and Alyssa Rende will have to adjust to a new schedule.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what they learn this year,” Tasha Ezzell said.
For Assistant Principal Lenora Locklear, the first day of school was a return after a break in education. She was previously the director of curriculum and instruction for Clinton City Schools.
“After being out a year, I knew that I was missing out on being with students and teachers,” she said. “I love being in the school. It gives me an opportunity to work with students and work closely with them.”
She’s looking forward to working with teachers and staff at the school for the upcoming year.
“Just being out there and being able to see the parents come in with their kids, it takes me back to the years when I was principal, assistant principal and a teacher in the schools,” Locklear said.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, more than 1.53 million students returned to school Monday. The total is an increase of 17,000 from last year and a jump of more than 61,000 from 2008-09.
In a news release, State Superintendent June Atkinson said the new school year brings students more options for learning than they’ve ever had before.
“Technology is helping students learn from anywhere at any time,” Atkinson said. “Teachers can now use handheld devices to deliver formative assessments that offer real-time results. Educators and school leaders are collaborating with colleagues across the state through Home Base. There are many exciting things happening in public schools and I am hopeful this year is going to be full of success stories for students and teachers.”
For the new school year, Gov. Pat McCrory sent a video message to teachers in North Carolina, thanking them for their work in the classroom.
“Teaching is hard,” McCrory said in the video. “It’s a skill, it’s a passion, it’s a love, it’s a profession. It’s not just cramming in knowing what the subject matter is. It’s interacting, it’s understanding methods of teaching, it’s understanding your students.”
In addition to the encouragement, McCrory said he was committed to working toward pay raises, stating that he’s working hard with legislators to do so.
“We’ve committed to spending over $1 billion in teacher salaries during the next fiscal year,” the governor said.
Salemburg Elementary Principal Gerald Johnson is looking forward to the beginning of school and good results at the end of the school year.
“That’s what we’re looking forward to,” Johnson said.
Although school in underway, state legislators are still divided on how to spend money to educate students in North Carolina. A couple of the issues include paying teacher assistants and driver’s education.
“We’re good to go and hopefully the budget will be completed soon,” Johnson said. “We need a budget because it’s holding up some things.”
State lawmakers are hoping the process is completed as well.
“I am hopeful that our lawmakers will recognize that districts and charter schools need to make funding decisions now and that the final budget will include the resources our public schools need to provide all students and opportunity to be successful,” Atkinson said.
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.