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First day of school is exciting at any age

New year means new possibilities

Superintendent Mark Hansen visits Pilgrim Park Middle School on the first day of classes.

Superintendent Mark Hansen visits Pilgrim Park Middle School on the first day of classes. Photo By Peter Zuzga

Sept. 4, 2012

Remember your first day of school?

Students, teachers and even parents discovered the wonders, fears and tears of a new year Tuesday throughout the Elmbrook School District. It was a first-ever day of school for some students and a first day for several professionals in a new teaching or administrative capacity.

NOW sampled the thoughts of several "newbies." Here are their stories.

Excitement among youngsters

Calvin Galow was ready for his first day of kindergarten at Brookfield Elementary School. Toting a backpack and sporting plaid shorts and a blue T-shirt partially printed with a red lobster, he already had had Mickey Mouse pancakes for breakfast, a treat courtesy of his mom, Amy.

"I'm excited to go to school," Calvin said a few days earlier. "I'm going to play with dinosaurs, and I'm going to learn how to behave."

That last remark drew a laugh from Amy, who said her son declared he already made a school friend during an open house.

"He is just ready to go," she said, noting his preschool experience. "At the open house, he got a plaque with his name on it, and he came right home and put it right up on his dresser.

"When I started school, I had an older sister, but I think I was a little more tentative."

On the first day of school, Calvin was one of the first to line up in front of teacher Katie Marx, and he quickly grabbed a book and began leafing through it.

"I have always tried to be sensitive to parents of kindergarten students," Marx said, "but I really began to see their concerns once I had kids of my own. You just worry about all kinds of things. I think I do a better job now."

Before Brook El opened its doors Tuesday, Alex Matus was having breakfast with his dad, Ernie, at a nearby Panera. He was looking forward to seeing some of his former schoolmates and meeting others in fourth grade after transferring from now-closed Hillside Elementary.

"I can't wait," he said. "I don't know what I'm going to learn yet, but my teacher is going to be Mrs. (Vickie) Jakubowski. My sister had her at Hillside, and she really liked her."

Ernie was pleased with the Brook El transfer.

"I know it's a good school," he said. "We have kids in three different schools, and all the schools here are very good."

Teacher's first day

Fresh out of college with some student teaching experience, Stacy Chapman has been "running crazy" to establish her own classroom at Pilgrim Park Middle School, where she now teaches language arts and social studies.

"I've been having a lot of dreams the past couple of days," said Chapman as she greeted students at her classroom door. "My dreams were about forgetting things to do. I didn't sleep well last night; I think I was just as nervous as some of these students going into a new year."

Chapman said she spent the last few weeks preparing her classroom and getting to know the curriculum while also meeting other new Pilgrim Park teachers.

"One of my short-term goals is to learn all the students. One of my long-term goals is to create plans that first push the curriculum and then challenge the students to go beyond," Chapman said. "This is a district that has high standards, and I want to be able to keep students learning and growing.

"Right now, I know how to set up a classroom and I can learn the curriculum," she said. "What I need to know is where to find things."

Administrative views

Superintendent Mark Hansen and Burleigh Elementary Principal Teresa Curley, both administrative veterans, started their first official school day in their new roles. They both are following in the footsteps of longtime Elmbrook educators.

Curley succeeds Bil Zahn who retired after a 22-year stint.

"Burleigh has a strong brand," said Curley, who for 17 years was a teacher and principal in Wilmot in southeastern Kenosha County. Carrying on a tradition that Zahn started, this year's theme is "Team Possible."

"The staff in-service phase has been a big help in getting to know everyone," Curley said. "I think my biggest challenge this year will be to learn everyone's name."

Like Chapman, Curley said the academic goal is to keep up the tradition of solid student performance that led to recently announced historically high ACT college entrance exam scores at the high school.

"If you don't learn how to read in elementary school, you're not going to do well on the ACTs," she said.

After Matt Gibson announced his retirement after 17 years as superintendent, Mark Hansen was named his replacement. Having served in various teaching and administrative positions in Waukesha and Pewaukee, Hansen's last position was chief academic officer for the Pewaukee School District.

He and his central administrative team visited all the district schools at the beginning and end of the day. Hansen helped greet students at Pilgrim Park, where he noted with a laugh, "One student asked who that guy was." Later, he helped a kindergarten teacher carry her classroom supplies.

"We will be visible and accessible," Hansen said, adding that it is important for him and others who are not always in the classroom to see how schools are doing.

"It's the first day and we can see how our systems are running," he said, referring to everything from bus transportation to food service. "We do what we do because of what happens in the schools."

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