By James Niedzinski
---- — ROCKPORT — By all accounts, the road into class was a smooth ride for students returning Wednesday to Rockport Elementary and Rockport Middle and High schools.
The paving of Jerden’s Lane, the street into the school complex, was completed Tuesday, and the newly finished school playground will open next week.
Elementary School Principal Shawn Maguire said faculty and staff were greeted with smiles, and it was one of the smoothest first days of school in years.
“If this is any indication about how the rest school year is going to go, (we’re off to) a great start,” he said.
Maguire said the school has surpassed an enrollment of 400 pupils, the largest in recent years.
Wednesday, students greeted new teachers and reviewed classroom routines. Rockport police were also present to guide traffic in and greet students and parents.
Today, Maguire said, there will be a school-wide assembly that will focus on expectations, respect, responsibility and safety before students head off for the long weekend; students have tomorrow and Monday off in recognition of Labor Day.
New elementary school staffers were settling in, too, including kindergarten teacher Angelina Rinaldi, fourth-grade teacher Beth Zerilli, fifth-grade teacher Joy Hennessy, school nurse Eileen Tebo and inclusion and behavior specialist Marlena Semos.
Besides new staff members, students can look forward to a new and improved playground when they return next week.
The playground resurfacing of rubber tiles was sorely needed; the old surface was installed in 2009 at the wrong time of year and deteriorated. Because of chunks springing up, the surface created a safety hazard for children, officials said.
“It never adhered, it was coming up in layers,” Superintendent Robert Liebow said.
Town Clerk Patricia Brown confirmed voters unanimously backed allocating $100,000 in capital funds toward resurfacing the playground at the Annual Town Meeting earlier this year.
Selectmen and other officials discussed the playground in January when capital items were on the table; the playground work had a one-year warranty.
“It’s done right this time. It’s a nice investment,” Liebow said. “We thank the citizens of Rockport for making that a reality.”
Liebow estimated $80,000 of the allocated money has been spent so far, and the rest will go toward finishing touches on the playground.
The district as a whole shows an increase of students as well.
Liebow said about 970 students are now in Rockport, up from approximately 930 last year; many of the new students are additional school choice students.
“Increase in enrollment is a good thing for us,” he said.
In the past, Liebow said, school enrollment was declining, but it has now at least stabilized — or even increased — because of school choice; there have been years when there were more than 1,000 students enrolled in town schools.
School officials also thanked the Department of Public Works and the contractor hired to repave Jerden’s Lane, providing a smooth road to education for students.
Liebow said the contractor stuck to his word, completing the job on Tuesday, before students started school Wednesday.
“They got it done, we are very appreciative of that,” he said.
All things considered, Liebow said it was a very smooth first day of school with no major mishaps, and staff members are glad to have the halls filled with students who are glad to be in class.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000 x 3455 or firstname.lastname@example.org.