Franklin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mark Church said 6,562 students returned to classes Monday.

That number will likely fluctuate for a couple of weeks as students continue to register, and Church said he hoped to see more kids in the district, but overall he is pleased with the start of the school year.

“It was a great day,” Church said. “It was a wonderful first day of school across the division, and I am very proud of our staff, our bus drivers and custodians — the buildings look great. It was a good start to school, so we have a lot to be proud of.”

New this year is the 1:1 Chromebook initiative at Franklin County High School. Students in ninth grade are each being assigned a Chromebook to have for the school year, and the laptops will move with them as they continue through their high school years. Additionally, the division has 54 new hires, 19 of whom are Franklin County High School alumni.

Church said the school buses have added zonar systems this year, which not only detect location, but also detect speeds. There also are cameras that can see vehicles that don’t stop for the bus or pass the bus. The division also has a new transportation supervisor, Sherry Whitlow.

Meanwhile, Lee M. Waid Elementary was a recipient of a new large fan in the gymnasium, and with some help from Indigo Signs added new signage to the school. Principal Anitra Holland said she is particularly proud of the signage the students see when they arrive at school in the morning. The positive messages welcome the students and promote kindness, similar to Church’s Be Kind campaign, which was the focus of his message to teachers at convocation.

Jason Guilliams, principal of Burnt Chimney Elementary School, said his school underwent some cosmetic changes this summer.

“When students and parents come to BC in the coming weeks the thing they notice is a face-lift to our school,” Guilliams said.“It has been a very busy summer here at ‘The Chimney.’ We are excited for the return of the students to fill our halls with the sounds of feet, laughter and excitement for learning.”

The parking lot has been resealed and lined, exterior doors and structures have been painted, the cafeteria has a new air conditioning unit and fresh paint, and the gym has new stage curtains.

Callaway Elementary Principal Pamela Brown said her school is starting a STEM lab this year for science, technology and math activities for all grade levels.

Windy Gap Elementary has added new Chromebooks, and after last year’s start-time adjustments, Windy Gap Principal Matt Brain said the additional time will continue to be used for more STEM education and activity time.

At Sontag Elementary, Principal Gail Brendle said for the first time in 10 years the school has no new teachers, and the entire school staff is returning. She added the school is celebrating its 99th year and will soon start preparing for next year’s centennial anniversary. The school added new curricula, including “Handwriting Without Tears” and a new Orton Gillingham reading program.

“Last year was great, this year is going to be even better,” Brendle said. “The teachers are excited for the kids to return.”

Benjamin Franklin Middle School has a new principal at the helm, Jami Clements. Clements spent the past three years as principal in Greensville County and two years before that as assistant principal. She said one of her goals for the school is engaging students and “meeting them where they are.”

Clements added she is proud of the new level up lab, which contains activity stations to de-escalate students and help them refocus on learning. “The lab is designed for students to deal with behaviors and not disrupt the learning environment,” she said. “It’s not meant to be used for a whole class period.”

Franklin County High School has a mix of new staff and veteran teachers, said Principal Jon Crutchfield. Rocky Ankeny has joined as the school’s new band director, and Mary Hannah Garber is the school’s new theater instructor.

“I am very excited to see where they take our programs,” Crutchfield said.

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