ZEPHYRHILLS — A familiar face from classrooms past greeted Principal Julie Marks outside Chester Taylor Elementary Monday morning, soon after parents and students began arriving for the first day of school in Pasco County.
Years ago, Marks taught geography and math at Weightman Middle School.
One of her sixth-grade students, T.J. Griswold, remembered her well. And now Griswold was excited to learn that his former teacher will be principal for his son, Jordan, 5, a kindergartner.
A few years may have flown by, but Marks recognized her old student immediately.
“He has the same face,” she said. “He’s just all grown up.”
It was a sea of generations Monday morning, with parents and grandparents sharing in the excitement of back-to-school time as unsure kindergartners or confident high school seniors launched themselves into the 2014-15 academic year.
The Pasco school district was expecting about 64,500 students,
One of the district’s goals for Monday was to improve communication to parents of bus riders. In the past, late buses the first couple of weeks of school left some parents fuming, a problem exacerbated by the fact it was hard for them to track down anyone who could provide information.
This year, for those first two weeks the district is operating a call center where the parents can find out whether a bus is running late — and roughly how late — along with confirmation that their child boarded the bus.
Superintendent Kurt Browning decided to see firsthand how well the bus system was running. He took a ride on a bus this morning before visiting schools.
All across the county, parents photographed freshly scrubbed students and school parking lots overflowed.
Holly Brown of Zephyrhills experienced a busy morning.
First she needed to drop off daughter Brianna Gibson, 13, at Stewart Middle, where she is a seventh-grader.
Then it was on to Taylor Elementary, where her other children, Shauna Johns, 8, and Josh Johns, 7, were both starting second-grade.
Brown has been a huge fan of Taylor ever since once-struggling reader Brianna blossomed into an accelerated reader after enrolling.
“This is a good school,” Brown said. “I love this school. They really, really care here.”
Savanah Benner, 9, a third-grader, is a lover of science and math.
“I like when I do pluses and the numbers go higher,” she said, adding she is now ready for multiplication.
Savanah has dropped hints to her parents that she would like a science kit so she can conduct experiments at home.
She is eager to do a science project this year. It will involve mold spores.
Once the school’s gates opened at 9:25 a.m., children and parents flooded to the classrooms, greeting old friends and settling into their seats.
“I’m excited,” said Brandon Mendez, 10, a fourth-grader. “I can get to see all my friends again.”
With Brandon were his mother, Jessica Mendez, and sisters Jezbra and Nijah, 4-year-old twins who started voluntary prekindergarten. Jessica Mendez planned to have the girls wear different earrings to help their teacher tell them apart, but forgot. She hoped the teacher’s familiarity with them would keep that from being a problem.
“They were in Head Start,” she said. “They have the same teacher.”
Some students were more excited than others.
Nervous kindergartner Lily Campbell, 5, clutched her mother’s arm, unwilling to let her leave, even after all the other parents had departed. Her mother, Ashley Campbell, helped Lily color and assured her everything would be fine. She introduced her to the other girls at her table and teacher Dawn Rice told her how much fun she would have.
Finally, Lily released her grip and her mother dashed outside, taking one last peek through the classroom window.
“Now I’ve got to go home and cry,” Ashley Campbell said. “She’ll be all right. She’ll be okay. I know she will. She’s tough.”