CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Fifth-grader Kate Gwaltney was very busy during her first day at Waterville Community Elementary School, but she doesn’t think the rapid-fire pace will prevent her from making friends.
“I think it’s going to be pretty easy,” she said Monday, the first day of school in Bradley County.
Last year, Kate was a fourth-grader at Blue Springs Elementary, but it was damaged beyond repair during the April 27 tornadoes. The 235 students from the school, which covered kindergarten through fifth grade, have been farmed out to Waterville and Black Fox elementaries.
For students such as Kate, Monday was a day to get acquainted with a brand-new school. For other students, teachers and administrators, it was a day to get reacquainted with a system pummeled by tornadoes and storms during the last days of the past school year.
“We had 12 elementary schools last year. Now we have 11,” schools Director Johnny McDaniel said.
Students returning to Michigan Avenue Elementary School will be separated from construction work as the tornado-damaged gymnasium is repaired. The gym roof was lifted off and flung against some trees during the tornadoes.
Waterville Principal Charlene Cofer said the school started with 594 students Monday. Last year, it ended with 530, she said.
Four Blue Springs teachers have moved to Waterville, too.
“Mr. McDaniel instituted a hiring freeze until Blue Springs personnel were taken care of,” Cofer said.
One of the tasks for staff at Waterville is to show students the right way to behave on school buses, in the cafeteria, in the gym during dismissal and in other places and at other times, Cofer said.
On Monday morning, children were seated outside in the shade beside a bus because the temperature inside the bus was too hot. They reviewed how to sit and talk quietly and went over safety tips such as when — and when not — to walk around the front of the bus.
Inside Waterville, colorful murals by local artist Hollye Kile illustrated phrases such as “Be Respectful,” “Be Responsible” and “Be Ready.”
To make room for Blue Springs students, some out-of-zone children who were attending Waterville or Black Fox are in new schools this year. From Waterville, for example, 30 students are going to Oak Grove Elementary this year and 38 to Taylor Elementary.
“We had some space last year thanks to opening a new school, Park View Elementary,” McDaniel said. “Now we are back to where we started.”
When the county school board meets Thursday, members are scheduled to get updates on negotiations for land for a new Blue Springs Elementary and on the status of repair work at Michigan Avenue Elementary.
For Kate at Waterville, making friends isn’t a concern, but she is disappointed that not all the Blue Springs teachers made the move to Waterville.
“Some of my teachers that I like a lot aren’t here, I guess,” she said.
Contact Randall Higgins at email@example.com or 423-314-1029.
Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...