New beginnings

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A new school year kicked off Wednesday in Camas and Washougal, with an air of excitement as students greeted each other and got down to the business of learning.

At Woodburn Elementary in Camas, a long line stretched out the door, where parents and children waited patiently to enter the building. Staff members were posted at strategic locations to guide visitors and students in the right direction, while teachers welcomed children to their classrooms.

It is a record attendance year in Camas, with 6,884 students on the first day of school. Last year, 6,541 students were in attendance.

Mike Nerland, superintendent; Jeff Snell, deputy superintendent; and Lisa Greseth, director of teaching, learning and assessment, visited all the schools in the district to greet students, parents and staff.

“It seemed like a very happy day for everyone,” Nerland said. “There were lots of smiles from the staff and students, and things went pretty smoothly.”

This is the first year the Camas School District has offered full-day kindergarten. Classes were staggered in thirds, so that teachers could get to know students in smaller groups.

“The kindergarten staggered start was so successful for both students and teachers,” said Julie Swan, Prune Hill Elementary principal. “We were able to dismiss all 500 students in 15 minutes, a record for the first day.”

In Washougal, Mike Stromme, superintendent, and Patsy Bowles, assistant superintendent, visited all district schools on the first day. Both are new to the district.

“We had a very smooth opening to the school year,” Stromme said.

“We visited each school throughout the school day. There was great excitement where one expected in the school commons areas. It was fun to watch students conversing with one another and generally be back in the school setting. The classrooms were a picture of student engagement and activity. Overall, it was a great day.”

On the first day of school, 3,047 students were counted, as compared to 3,094 last year. Stromme noted that the 2014 official count was done on the fourth day of school, so things could change. The fourth day of school this year was Tuesday, after press deadlines.

At Gause Elementary, kindergartners received a tour of the school and playground, and learned school expectations.

Principal Rex Larson deemed the first day a success. He noted that several parents chose to walk their children to class.

“For security reasons, parents must sign in on a visitor check-in sheet that helps us create a roster of all visitors,” he said. “This roster is especially important should law enforcement need to know who was in our building on any particular day. We are blessed with excellent parent support, so our Booster Club had several volunteers signing parents in as well as being positioned around the hallways to help any lost student or parent find their new classroom.”

He noted that the school implemented a new student pick-up procedure to ensure a safer and less chaotic dismissal time. Parents and children are “matched” up with an identification card. A staff member uses the cards to make sure each student is picked up by the right parent.

“Parents were patient with us and very understanding as we rolled this new procedure out because they understand and appreciate our efforts to make sure their children at all times are safe at school,” he said. “Our Booster Club was again very instrumental in their support of this new procedure. What a great community we are lucky to have here in Washougal, and especially at Gause.”