At half past eight on Monday morning, the sun was beating down on the grounds at Royle Elementary School. Luckily, parents, teachers and students along the driveway adjacent to the school were in the shade.
On the first day of the 2014-15 school year, Royle Elementary School did something novel -- the Parade of Learners. Interim Principal John Grasso told the crowd of parents, teachers and eager and anxious students that he hoped the parade would be a "new tradition" at Royle.
"The staff is ready, the building is ready and I hope you're ready," Grasso said.
During the Parade of Learners, parents -- some of whom watched through a camera lens or smart phone -- created an aisle for students to walk through. As Grasso announced each grade, the parents applauded their children. Each class within each grade was announced before students walked toward the main entrance and into their classrooms for a year of learning.
Schools across the district experienced stress-free first days of school.
"It feels like we're already in session," said Middlesex Middle School Principal Debi Boccanfuso near the end of the first school day. Boccanfuso said this year's opening -- much like years' past -- was "a great and smooth day."
"We hit the ground running," she said.
"The day was excellent," Forshaw said.
Forshaw said students arrived ready to learn and teachers were "feeling good" about the new year. He added that few staffing changes aided in the transition from year to year. Two weeks before the start of the 2013-14 school year, a fourth-grade teacher at Ox Ridge quit, which can make for a somewhat rocky start.
"It's very rare that what you plan (in terms of class sizes and teacher placement) sticks from spring through the beginning of the new year," Forshaw said.
Up to and on the first day of school, Cicchetti has been hiring teachers to fill vacancies in the district. According to a news release from Pierson a week before school started, 37 teachers were hired for the start of school for full- and part-time positions.
"We're ready to rock," Forshaw said.
He attributed the "excellent" opening day to a "good, solid three days of professional development" prior to the start of school. Much of the professional development days focused on understanding how students transition from one grade to the next, Forshaw said.
"The new school year is full of promise and it was palpable around the building today as teachers and students discussed their aspirations for learning, exploration and discovery," Dunn said. "Our students are truly exceptional and can accomplish anything that can be imagined. It will be a great year."
Throughout the day, Pierson visited the schools in the district, observing teachers and speaking with staff about the day.
"We had an exceptionally smooth opening, and children, parents and the staff all seemed pleased to be at school," Pierson said, noting that the schools were clean and bulletin boards were "beautiful."
There were minor busing problems, which Pierson said is expected in all school districts and is not unique to Darien.
"It usually takes some time -- as long as two weeks -- to settle the sequence of buses," Pierson said. "The good news, from my perspective, is that we had very few new drivers this year, which helps because the drivers know the streets and they know the routes and have a good sense of timing from stop to stop."
Pierson said she sensed "optimism and enthusiasm" from parents during the day.
"Parents seemed very positive and I would say that everyone has worked hard to ensure that this school year gets off to a good beginning," Pierson said.
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