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Positivity rules as new school year begins

Rashard Curmon didn’t waste any time laying out his expectations for students at Northeast Elementary School. Monday morning, the first day of his first year as principal of the school, Curmon gathered students by grade level in a series of assemblies to explain “the three things I need you to do.”

African American man in a suit in seen over the heads of children as he speaks in a school auditorium. Come to school.

Have a positive attitude.

And try.

“When I was going to school, school was tough for me. I struggled,” the principal told a group of second graders. “Every single day, when my dad dropped me off to school, I had to commit to him before I got out of the car. He would say to me, ‘What I need for you to do is try.’ That helped me have a positive attitude. That’s what I need for you to do this school year.”

Positivity seemed to rule the day Monday as the 2019-2020 school year began.

Perhaps buoyed by a smooth opening for the 16 schools on LCPS’s traditional calendar, perhaps energized by a series of rousing professional development sessions led by nationally known educators earlier this month, perhaps excited simply about getting back into the school house and practicing their craft, teachers and administrators broadcast that upbeat vibe to a receptive bunch of parents and students.

“Kids are glad to be here, most of them, and teachers are very enthusiastic at the start of the school year and I feel like we’ve gotten off to as good a start as I could have hoped for today,” North Lenoir High School principal Gil Respess said. “I always get fired up for the start of the school year, but probably this year more so than ever.”

North Lenoir expects to enroll about 880 students this year, a few more than a year ago. Overall, the district projects enrollment of about 8,500, including its pre-K classes and the student body at Lenoir County Early College High School, which began classes Aug. 5. Official enrollment numbers are reported after the first 10 days of school.

LCPS school buses transport about 80 percent of the district’s students, and smoothing out the logistics of that system – 132 buses traveling thousands of miles every school day – takes a few days, particularly when school districts are scrambling to find reliable, licensed bus drivers, as are all in the state. But Day 1 did not present any unsolvable transportation problems and, more importantly, the school buses made their trips safely, according to Assistant Superintendent Nicholas Harvey II, who visited all 17 schools in the district Monday.

“The campuses look great, the students were engaged, so we’re off to a fantastic start of the 2019-2020 school year,” Harvey said.

In a campaign that both calls attention to its dramatic academic growth over the past three years and emphasizes the need for continued improvement, LCPS has labeled this year’s effort by administrators and teachers as “Leveling Up: Taking Teaching and Learning to the Next Level.”

Among recent achievements LCPS plans to build upon this school year are higher graduation rates and lower dropout rates, steady improvement in students’ academic growth, a high percentage of high school students taking college courses, sharply declining student suspensions, a robust digital learning program and a computer coding curriculum unparalleled in the region.