Students, teachers and yellow buses were all in motion Wednesday morning as the first wave of Berkshire County public schools officially began the 2014-15 school year.
First days were celebrated in the Berkshire Hills Regional, Farmington River, Florida, Hancock, Lee, Pittsfield, Richmond, Savoy and Southern Berkshire school districts.
Farmington River Elementary School in Otis had a particularly exciting morning. Shortly after students walked in, they were ushered out of their classrooms and into the parking lot when a faulty sensor triggered the school's fire alarms. There was no fire, but the students and teachers had to wait awhile until local fire departments fully checked and gave clearance for all to move back inside.
"The kids did an absolutely amazing job, and so did the staff," said Farmington Principal Tom Nadolny, who is also new to the school. He is one of more than a dozen school administrators starting new roles this year in the county.
Around 10:30 a.m., state Secretary of Education Matthew Malone stopped into the school for a visit, as part of a statewide "First Days" tour. He later visited students, staff and community members in the Southern Berkshire Regional School District in Sheffield and Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School in Palmer.
"Be nice to each other this year," was Malone's advice to one Farmington River class.
After things had settled down, third-grader Noelle Nolan sat at her desk deeply involved in a "Back to School" word search.
Asked how she felt about being back in school, she said, "Really happy. I got to see my friends and got to start a new year."
Noelle noted, "I really love math," and says she's ready to go further in solving long division and learning larger multiplication tables.
Southern Berkshire Superintendent David Hastings said it was "an absolutely wonderful, magical first day of school," in the district.
He said early enrollment figures indicate there may be a reversal in population decline in the district.
He also said teachers felt validated after Secretary Malone's visit. At both Southern Berkshire and Farmington River, Malone talked to teachers and union leaders who brought up the issue of assessment and how it can interfere with instruction.
"We just want to teach," said Farmington fifth-grade teacher Chris Keller, who serves as co-president of the district's teachers' union with Laurie Flower.
In the morning, Keller welcomed three new students from Costa Rica to his classroom by playing music of that region and writing a morning greeting using some words in Spanish.
He said details and interpersonal experiences like this, versus an MCAS test, is what will keep students motivated in their education. "We have to find that balance," Keller said.
At Gabriel Abbot Memorial School in Florida, traditions like staff performing songs and the parent-teacher group hiring an ice cream truck made school really something to celebrate.
At Herberg Middle School in Pittsfield, new principal, Gina Coleman, welcomed sixth-graders for orientation. All grades will be in session today.
She said aside from some technology issues the school district is dealing with this week, Wednesday "went wonderfully."
"In talking with parents, I think telling them I'll be doing the same thing next week with my own sixth-grader helped alleviate some nerves," said Coleman. "As for me, things went relatively smoothly. I have a wonderful faculty that's very welcoming and understanding that I'm just as new to this school as their sixth-graders."
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School days ...
Today: Lanesborough Elementary, Lenox
Tuesday: Adams-Cheshire, BART, Central Berkshire
Wednesday: Clarksburg Elementary, Mount Greylock, North Adams, Williamstown Elementary
Thursday, Sept. 4: McCann Tech