By Chase Rheam
STILLWATER, Okla. —
It was not only the start of a new semester, but also new surroundings for several hundred elementary school children in Stillwater on Tuesday.
Highland Park Elementary School opened its doors for the first time to hundreds of students while much of the remaining construction was relegated to aesthetics.
Superintendent Ann Caine, who visited seven of the 10 district schools Tuesday, including Highland Park, said it was a great first day.
“It was so calm,” she said. “I was telling one principal when I was visiting Skyline Elementary (that) I think this is the first day when I haven’t seen one kid cry.”
Many children are nervous as the summer ends and school begins again, she said.
“The first day is hard,” Caine said.
A Stillwater resident raised concerns on the Stillwater NewsPress Facebook page about the impact school and road construction nearby had on traffic.
“I know traffic is always a problem at all of our schools on the first seven days because everyone brings their kids,” she said. “That’s always a situation.”
The intersection near State Highway 51 and Drury Road has been narrowed to one lane both ways as lanes are being widened.
“It should be finished the second week of September, so until then, people just need to leave a little earlier and be a little patient,” Caine said.
Caine said the hope was construction would be completed before the start of school, but the design had to be approved at the city, state and federal levels and a bidding process had to be completed.
One parent said he was concerned with the amount of construction and safety for students near Highland Park Elementary. Caine said she walked the site on Tuesday and saw nothing to be unsafe. She said major construction is complete and finishing details are still ongoing.
“When I was out there this morning, our landscaping company was still laying sod and there’s grates that need to go in for drainage,” she said.
Caine expressed thanks to the city of Stillwater, the administrative team, Lambert Construction and others for having the school ready to go Tuesday.
Third-grade teacher Teresa Ellis said children and teachers were excited about the new school.
“Everybody pitched in and followed procedures and just stayed flexible with all of the newness of coming into a brand new building,” she said.
Ellis said there were many tours in and around the building for the students to see the workers, equipment and tasks still being accomplished. Ellis’ expectations of the new Highland Park Elementary’s impact on the morale of the students is high, she said.
“We’re just expecting the kids to just jump in because we have a lot of kids coming from Skyline and Westwood and different places,” she said. “We really tried to make them feel a part, but it was so cool, because we’re all new so we all started off on the same foot.”
The first day of school came one day after contracts for teachers and support staff were approved in a school board meeting Monday morning.
“Everyone worked together really well to reach the best contract for everybody,” Caine said.
She said it was an easy conversation with the school board.