New principals take over on first day at Bibb schools

When Bibb County school students returned for their first day of school Tuesday, almost half of them found new principals.

This year, 16 of the system’s 39 schools have new principals at the helm, and two other schools kept on their interim principals full time.

The spike in new leaders stemmed in large measure from retirements. Also, new leadership was part of major reform initiatives at four high schools that were targeted as among the lowest performing 5 percent in the state.

“I can’t remember a time when the board had as many on that level at one time,” said interim Superintendent Sylvia McGee. “It is higher than normal.”

But McGee said given the district’s “ever-changing landscape,” including new faces and a mission to take the system to new places, the first day went well overall.

“With all that change, we’ve done an excellent job,” she said.

At Skyview Elementary on Tuesday morning, students were warming up to their new principal, Judy Vickers, 56. She had retired as an elementary school principal from Coffee County, but decided she wasn’t ready to stop working. A recent state law allows retirees to rejoin the work force in critically needed jobs.

Fifth-grader Timothy Foust got a hug from Vickers before he went to his first class. He wasn’t quite ready for the new school year.

“It’s his first year without his brothers,” who have moved on to middle school, explained his mom, Shaun.

The school district also reassigned 13 assistant principals to different schools this year, creating more change.

“It’s been a practice of the district to give assistant principals experience at different levels and different schools,” Assistant Superintendent Dan Ray said.

Skyview mother Belinda Staples said she wasn’t worried about any instability at the school.

“It’s not like she’s going to come in and change everything,” Staples said. “I think it’s going to be a good year with new faces and a fresh start.”

About 2 p.m. Tuesday, Bibb central office staffers — who had each been assigned a school Tuesday to serve as “process observers” — regrouped to provide feedback about opening day.

A few schools, including Springdale Elementary and Northeast High, reported faulty air conditioning in rooms, and some schools identified computers that needed repair.

A few schools had buses that had not shown up to pick up students, a problem that will be remedied by Wednesday.

The district’s mobility rate of about 35 percent — students transferring from school to school — also had many school officials predicting a lot more students to come.

Rice Elementary, for example, had 494 students on hand Tuesday and 109 no-shows, while Lane Elementary had 512 students, 83 no-shows and 100 new students enrolling since July.

Hutchings Career Center was about 54 students under enrollment projections, with just 250 students on opening day, and Howard Middle, school officials warned, is already near its 1,000 student capacity and may need additional trailers.

McGee said school officials adjust to the fluctuations in the first weeks of school.

“Historically, we have close to 2,500 no-shows, and we look to be on that same target,” McGee said.

The district had 22,100 students on its first day, about 2,200 fewer than projected, but school officials predict that by October, the total will have grown to about 24,300.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.