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New goals, plans: PAISD employees echo change on first day of school

Wednesday marked the first day of school for the 2019-2020 school year as students, teachers and staff across the Port Arthur Independent School District, and from kindergarten to high school, all have one goal in mind — change.

Dennise Griffith, a pre-kindergarten Head Start teacher at Wheatley’s School of Early Childhood Programs said she was excited for the new children and parents to be welcomed back to school.

“We have so much fun here at Wheatley,” she said. “This is where everything is hands-on learning. The kids are awesome and I’m just excited about the whole thing.”

Students from Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs enjoy breakfast in the cafeteria before the start of the first day of classes on Wednesday. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

Wheatley welcomes change this year with an expanded all-day, 3-year-old program, Griffith said.

“Last year we just had two all-day, 3-year-old classes; this year we have nine,” she said. “This morning we are trying to get used to having all the children and 18 classes go through breakfast and get to the classrooms. It’s a change, but every day will get better.”

Griffith said she is ready for another school year at Wheatley, marking it as her 26th year as an educator at the school.

“This is my only teaching position ever,” she said. “I’m a die-hard, early-childhood person and if you want to teach early childhood the right way, Wheatley is the place to be.”

Students from Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs are entertained during the first day of classes on Wednesday. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

PAISD Superintendent Mark Porterie, third from left, visits the Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs during the first day of classes on Wednesday. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

Around the corner from Wheatley, Travis Elementary welcomed change with the new and improved school building.

Arnelle Prevost, a reading teacher in her third year, said she is most excited about the new building and the new curriculum.

“Since we opened in the middle of the year, the whole building wasn’t as complete but it is more complete now,” she said. “Today, my students are making me feel awesome. They have been the best, so that’s big for me. I’m excited for the school year. As a reading teacher, we are starting a whole new curriculum. We get to try new things.”

Travis Elementary School welcomed the 2019-2020 school year on Wednesday with a brand new building. Students cross the mural, which is made with several small photos of Port Arthur icons in the front hallway. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

Travis Elementary will start its new Houghton Mifflin Harcourt curriculum after about 12 years with the old program, Prevost said.

“It’s not whole group teaching anymore,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of it is actually using small groups, so that’s new for me. I get to keep the kids in smaller groups rather than teach a large class — it’s definitely new.”

Sandi Cook, who teaches students with dyslexia at Travis, said she expects the school year to run smoothly, with cooperation coming together on all ends.

“This morning ran like a fine-oiled machine,” she said. “Parents were cooperative and friendly. Students were ready to go to class. We’re happy, ready to go and ready to learn.”

Cook, who retired and returned to Travis, has been a teacher on campus for 28 years.

“Travis is a family,” she said. “We take care of our students, parents and teachers. We have a wonderful principal and assistant principal. We’re family oriented.”

Students at Memorial High School attend a literature class during their first day of the 2019-2020 school year on Wednesday. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

Memorial High School was also undergoing several changes by adding new clubs and directors to the Titan team.

Brenda Brooks Coleman, associate principal at Memorial, said the high school is gearing up for a lot of change.

“There’s a lot of new stuff going on this year,” she said. “We have new plans and goals, particularly for academics. We did meet standard, but we want to grow. We are going to have a new international club this year. Students expressed some concern because although they are from different countries, it does not mean that they are Mexican or Hispanic; some identify as Latino. We’re trying to find things that would make the kids interested in what we’re offering here.”

Coleman said the high school added a new band director, Trent Johnson, and new dance instructor, Carlecia Roberts, to help rally school spirit.

“Johnson is a former assistant director but he’s doing very well,” she said. “Our band is getting larger. We have a new director for the dance group, as well. Everyone is rearing up to go to football games, get the team spirit going and have our first pep rally.”

Teachers, staff and administration at Memorial High School sport their new T-shirts with the PAISD “120 Years” logo on Wednesday. (Cassandra Jenkins/The News)

Coleman said the students came in to their first day excited, smiling and ready to go.

“We expect this to be an exciting year for Memorial High School,” she said. “I think that people will really see what we do here. We’re not just a number and we are not just the only high school, we are the high school in Port Arthur and we are doing very well.”

Other school districts in Mid-County begin their school year next week with Nederland ISD starting Aug. 19 and Port-Neches Groves starting Aug. 20.