ASHE COUNTY — After three months of summer fun, students of Ashe County Schools strapped on their backpacks, sharpened their pencils and boarded the buses for the first day of the 2019-2020 school year on Thursday, Aug. 15.

A total of 3,117 students arrived at Ashe County’s seven different schools for the first day, according to an ACS attendance report, and administrators within the school system said the day went smoothly.

“I visited every school,” Superintendent Phyllis Yates said. “Everybody was happy, so I was very pleased.”

For Ashe County Middle School, a total of 521 students arrived on the first day, which marked its highest attendance in more than five years, according to Principal Dustin Farmer.

“All of the children had smiles on their faces, so I consider that a pretty successful day,” Farmer said. “I felt like our faculty was excited to be back after a good break over the summer. All in all, buses went really well considering we’ve had a few changes to bus routes, and all of our new folks that we have seemed to be doing really well.”

During the summer, ACS hired a total of 16 new teachers for the school system, with two of those teachers starting at ACMS, according to Human Resources Director Roy Putman. Between Aug. 6-8, Putman oversaw new teacher orientation for ACS and said he felt confident in the new hires.

“I feel like, based on what I saw, we have some good people coming in,” Putman said. “They seem excited to be here.”

At Westwood Elementary School, five hires were made over the summer, including Scott Grubb who now serves as the new assistant principal. In total, Westwood welcomed 553 students on the first day of school, and Principal Jennifer Holden said she visited every classroom alongside Grubb.

“It was an amazing start to the school year. Our students seemed excited, and parents were great,” Holden said. “I feel like our teachers have worked hard as far as professional development over the summer and getting their classrooms ready.”

Holden added that safety is a top priority this year at Westwood, as well as student achievement. She said that in the first few months of the school year, a team of teachers, administrators and staff will be developing a new student improvement plan based on current data to set future goals for Westwood.

“The goals are typically aligned with math instruction, literacy instruction and school culture, such as behavior and discipline,” Holden said, adding that the student improvement plan covers a three-year period. The plan should be drafted by Oct. 1 and will be presented at a regular board of education meeting.

Ashe Early College welcomed 45 new freshmen this year, increasing its total population to 101 students on the first day. Principal Elaine Cox said the new arrivals were already taking their first college classes during the day. Though academics is of critical importance for students, Cox said a sense of community is also emphasized in the classroom.

“What we want to do is hope that students see that there’s nothing more important than being kind and good to other people,” Cox said.

Of the other schools within Ashe County, 835 students attended Ashe County High School on the first day, 446 at Blue Ridge Elementary School, 593 at Mountain View Elementary School and 68 at the Early Learning Center.

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