The word of the day at Ringgold Middle School: excited

The word of the day at Ringgold Middle School: excited

September 14th, 2011 by Mike O'Neal in Catoosa

Ringgold Middle School principal Mike Sholl high-fives students on the first day of classes. Photo by Mike O'Neal

Ringgold Middle School principal Mike Sholl high-fives students...


That one word describes the reaction everyone - faculty, administrators and students - had last week when Ringgold's tornado-damaged schools opened their doors for a new school year.

"We're excited and ready to be back," said Kim Mullins, the middle school's assistant principal, as she greeted students getting out of vans and cars.

While Mullis and a group of teachers welcomed each arriving student at the school's front entrance, a similar scene unfolded where a welcoming committee comprised of teachers awaited the steady stream of students as they stepped from big yellow buses.

Whether getting out of vans, cars or buses, theses youngsters looked excited. Excited to be back with their friends. Excited to be back in their school. Excited to be back in a normal routine.

On a dark and stormy April night normal was swept away, blasted asunder when swirling winds ripped roofs away and toppled walls, making the campus shared by Ringgold's middle and high schools resemble a war zone more than a school zone.

But four months of herculean effort has produced results that are, in a word, exciting.

"I didn't dream it could be like this," Catoosa County Public Schools board chairman Don Dycus said as students filed into the middle school's gym for a pep rally to celebrate the school's reopening. "This is better than anybody could have envisioned."

Indeed, work to restore the school resulted in a building where floors gleam, overhead lights are bright and warm and fluorescent-induced pallors are no more, and where even the cafeteria has been updated to being a cafe.

Its schools have been Ringgold's heart and soul for generations, and their "new" not "mended" feeling raises spirits beyond the campus.

When principal Mike Sholl led assembled sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in a cheer that ended with a resounding "We are Ringgold," it was more than a cheer; it was a statement of what is going on throughout the town.

"A lot of people living in Ringgold went through his building as students," Dycus said. "This is an exciting day."

Dycus, a Ringgold graduate, recalled a time when today's middle school was the high school. Water damage made it necessary to replace the original gymnasium floor, something that finished just days before this school year began. Once demolition of the eighth-grade wing is complete, the gym's walls will be the only thing left of the old Ringgold High School, he said.

Last Wednesday was not a typical day, it was a celebration, a homecoming, according to Sholl.

Though the "only thing not new are the bricks," he said the middle school's traditions and its place in the lives of its students and the community as a whole have not changed.

Sholl said the teachers were more excited about getting the kids back for a new school year than in having a spiffy new school house.

"We want to love 'em," he said, and went on to tell sixth-graders during orientation that "the goal for me is for you to come to school and be happy."

Superintendent Denia Reese said "it is very rare to start the first day with a pep rally," but added that events of the past few months have been anything but normal.

"We are excited to be back," she said. "No other class has ever experienced what these kids had to go through, but today was a good start. There were so many happy, smiling faces."

Damon Raines, director of operations for Catoosa County Public Schools, spent the summer working with contractors who made the two schools rise like a phoenix from a soggy pile of debris.

As he watched students and teachers alike walk the sparkling hallways leading to the pep rally, Raines, excitement in his voice, said, "When the halls are full of students, you know it is back to normal."