The sun was shining when the tardy bell rang at 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Most Fort Valley Middle schoolers were already in their new homerooms, catching up on what they did over the summer break.
Outside, Tara Johnson had just dropped off her seventh-grade daughter, but she still had to stop at Kay Road Elementary to take her second- and fourth-graders to school.
“They’re excited,” Johnson said of the two young boys in the back seat of her car. “They’re very, very excited. They’re more excited than the seventh-grader.”
While first-day jitters were slightly less apparent in the faces of middle school students, some were enlivened by a district-wide change.
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“(The dress code) was really strict last year,” eighth-grader Zakyah Freeman said. “We couldn’t wear jackets, (and) we couldn’t wear hoodies. The jackets had to be unzipped, (and) the pants couldn’t have studs on them, but now they’ve released all that.”
Principal Damika Glover said the district also will allow cargo pants.
“We’re focusing this year more on instruction than dress code,” Glover said.
The change pleased Freeman, but she wasn’t so excited about another districtwide change.
“The state of Georgia is moving to the Georgia Milestone(s) test,” Glover said. “It will be a different type of test, a more performance based test.”
As the Georgia Department of Education rolls out its replacement for the Crierion-Referenced Competency Test, it plans to have 30 percent of students at each public school take the Georgia Milestones test online in April. The rest will take the test on paper. In five years, the plan is for all students to take the test online.
Freeman is anxious about taking an exam on a computer, but there’s a good chance she won’t have to.
Other changes for the Peach County school system include free breakfast and lunch for all students in five of the district’s seven schools.
“We have a high enough percentage of free and reduced lunch that we can offer that,” Dr. Daryl Fineran, Peach County school system’s new superintendent, said.
“It’s hard for kids to work and learn if they’re hungry,” he said.
The district also opened two new pre-kindergarten classes at Hunt and Kay Road Elementary schools.
“We’re one of those counties, and it’s strange that we haven’t had any public school pre-k,” Fineran said. “We probably need about 10, but we got two and we’re happy for that.”
This is Fineran’s first year as superintendent. He was a teacher and a coach at Peach County High School in the late 1980s through the mid 1990s.
He said last year’s test scores from the high school indicated improvement.
“I just think we’ve got a freshness and an air to move forward,” Fineran said. “We’re hoping to continue to make strides.”