TAMPA — Doretha Edgecomb still gets caught up in the excitement of the first day of school.
Now in her 49th year in education, the teacher-turned-principal-turned-school board member bounced from school to school Tuesday, helping anxious students, meeting with principals and teachers, and simply breathing it all in.
“I had to get my fix,” Edgecomb said during a stop at Van Buren Middle School, the fourth on her itinerary for the day. “I still have that kind of enthusiasm, that excitement about what the first day is going to be like. It takes me back.
“If you’ve ever been in a school, there’s something about coming back on the first day that’s really important — making that connection with kids, feeling the momentum and enthusiasm. You can’t get that sitting in the district office.”
Tuesday was the first day of school for nearly 200,000 Hillsborough County students, but it was also the first day for the seven members of the school board and for Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, all of whom fanned out across the county.
“Having people from the district office out in the schools is important,” said Elia, who visited 10 schools. “I think it’s a way to show that I care what’s happening at every one of our schools and we’re all focused on what we can do to make our students successful.”
The administrators found things appeared to be running smoothly. The district reported no major problems, just typical first-day hiccups such as late buses, students registering on site and absences.
Spokeswoman Tanya Arja pronounced it “a great day,” adding that good weather contributed to a smooth launch.
At Mort Elementary School, Principal Woodland Johnson said he welcomed a visit from Cindy Stuart, elected to the school board last year.
“We have a very supportive school board member, and Ms. Stuart does wonders helping us,” Johnson said. Stuart visited four schools, starting by helping raise the flag at Lake Magdalene Elementary.
Another principal, Derrick Gaines at Van Buren, had Elia and Edgecomb as guests. He started as principal in February, so even though he doesn’t classify as a true rookie, “there’s some butterflies,” he said. “It did hit home that this is my first opening. When I got in this morning, I was looking around and thought, ‘Wow, the first day of school for my school.’ The reality hit.”
Elia said the biggest change in the district this year is beefed-up security. Hillsborough is moving to have every school under controlled access, meaning a single entry point that in some cases will require visitors to be buzzed or escorted into the school.
That arrangement is in place at Mort, where board member Stuart observed a doorbell/chime system that indicated to the front office that a visitor was present.
“It’s tough on the first day to communicate to parents that we’re watching that stuff, and that we’re going to be a little more diligent,” Stuart said. “It’s different than it was in the past — especially at a school where you may have just come in and signed in and walked your child to class. A lot of schools have moved away from that.”
Officially, the district counted 186,817 heads on opening day, 2,863 more than last year, but Arja said that number is likely to surpass the 200,000 mark as children who haven’t been registered start showing up.