Clifford Davis Elementary School was buzzing with excitement Monday morning, with parents pushing strollers along to drop off older siblings, teachers helping students find their classes and a visit by Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, who toured several schools on the first day.
Parents at the school, which is one of the most diverse in the district and serves a wide range of students with more than two dozen languages spoken, welcomed the opportunity to bring their children back to school for another year.
For some, like Carla McDill, the new year is a time to get things organized — especially after two years of uncertainty.
“It feels good to get things back in order,” McDill said after dropping her two kids off at the school.
McDill said she is still worried about the hovering threat of COVID-19 along with the end of masking in most school environments. She sent her two kids with masks on the first day. But she is also grateful for the loosening of some of the COVID precautions, such as quarantining a whole class after exposure.
“My kids ended up having to go to summer school, because several times their classmates had it,” she said. “Hopefully this year we’ll get it under control — if parents will be more vigilant about hand washing and where they spend their leisure time.”
For other parents, the new school year is part of a new life.
Mohammad Wali Dastagerzai, who had one child starting school for the first time and another returning, is a recent refugee from Afghanistan, where he served as an interpreter for U.S. forces.
“It is great,” he said on the first day back. “It is way different. It is a big change in our life especially for kids. We have a different language in our country, different books and stuff, but they really like it.”
While many kids were nervous about returning, Dastagerzai said his kids were excited, asking when they would come back.
Last first day for Early College High seniors, superintendent
About 10 minutes down the road, administrators at the TCC South/ Fort Worth ISD Collegiate High School were welcoming students for their first day.
Students crowded around class lists to see where they were headed as Trustee Wallace Bridges and Superintendent Kent Scribner greeted them in the hallways.
For seniors, the first day marks the final stretch of their high school career, along with a portion of their college career.
Tiana McMath, who is entering her senior year at the Early College High School, lost most of her sophomore year when COVID-19 shuttered schools. She missed homecoming and seeing her friends.
“When I started I didn’t think I would really make it this far,” McMath said before starting her first class. “The thought of graduating with an associate degree and my high school diploma seemed like such a big deal. Now that I am actually here, I am really proud of myself.”
The program, which helps students obtain an associate degree from Tarrant County College alongside high school coursework, is a model for what all high schools should strive for, Mayor Parker said after visiting with students.
“I really want us to focus on what it looks like to make sure every single high school student in Fort Worth ISD graduates with a post-secondary credential, or at least an associate degree here,” Parker said. “First of all, these students will graduate with a two-year associate degree from TCC, which is really the equivalent of a $40,000 education … and secondly, it really prepares them for life in a different way.”
McMath plans to pursue a degree in communications or journalism.
Seniors weren’t the only ones spending their last first day of school at Early College High School.
Scribner, who will retire at the end of the month, spent the morning touring campuses across the district, including Early College High School and Leonard Middle School.
Just weeks before he moves out of the superintendent position and the board of trustees continues to interview candidates for his replacement, Scribner said his last first day was a good one — pointing to the official release of state accountability scores that show Fort Worth ISD making progress.
“It’s a great way to wrap up my tenure,” he said. “Fort Worth ISD has been a high point for me both professionally and personally after 20 years as a superintendent.”
Improving in several areas on the district’s report card “really, I think sets the stage for the next leader to take Fort Worth ISD from good to great,” he said.
Locked doors and added security for schools
Back at Clifford Davis, parents arriving after the first bell were met with a locked door and had to wait to be buzzed into class.
Ebony Key, the principal, said that security is a team effort as the school year gets underway.
“We have reinforced all staff members having their ID or their name tag on, showing that they’re not opening the doors, (and) we reviewed all of our new safety procedures and let students know,” she said. “From time to time, there will be some advanced security measures, so we do have some Fort Worth police officers — especially being right across from the high school, they’ll come over there, they’ll kind of go around the premises, they’ll sit right here.”
Along with the mayor, Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes visited schools and greeted students on the first day.
“What we’ve been doing over the summer is getting ready for this day,” Noakes said. “Because we know that what’s top of mind for everyone is school security, especially after what happened in Uvalde.”
A mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde that killed 19 students and two teachers in May has caused policy makers from school districts, cities and the state to reconsider school safety and reevaluate plans and procedures.
Noakes said that additional training has occurred along with increased communication with school districts including Fort Worth ISD. One of they key things they discussed, is the incident command structure and the role each entity plays in the event of an emergency.
“We all understand our roles,” he said. “We don’t want the day we figure this out to be the day you are actually having to do something.”