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Smooth start: DL school leaders report good first days, flat enrollment

Parents lined up halfway around the block on Tuesday morning to drop their kids off at Detroit Lakes Middle School for the first day of the new school year. The first day is always the busiest for drop-offs and pick-ups. School district officials say the first day of school went smoothly overall. Marie Johnson / Tribune1 / 2
Kids headed back to school on Tuesday, a cause for celebration for some local parents. Here, a Detroit Lakes couple says "cheers" as their daughter catches the school bus to start 8th grade. Submitted Photo2 / 2

Kids across the Detroit Lakes school district said 'goodbye' to summer and 'hello' to a new school year on Tuesday, and public school officials are saying it was a good first day all around.

Parents of Detroit Lakes Middle School and Rossman Elementary School students who were apprehensive about the new drop-off/pick-up situation at the combined campus, which is currently in the midst of a construction project, may have been pleasantly surprised. Things went relatively smoothly, district leaders said — especially by the afternoon pick-up, after most parents had gotten a feel for the new traffic flow earlier that morning.

"I think the traffic there probably came off better than expected," said Superintendent Doug Froke. "You could see it clearly...after school — I don't ever remember having the campus cleared out that fast. What we see is that the structure is there to be safer and more efficient."

Middle school Principal Mike Suckert also thought things went well. The first day of school is always the busiest for pick-ups and drop-offs, he said, and Tuesday was the first day of using the new system, but it was clear that parents were already getting the hang of it by the afternoon.

"By 3:45, it was very quiet on the south end where the parental pick-up is," he said. "We moved a lot of vehicles through there in 15 minutes, which is a lot to say for that. That's pretty good for two campuses."

He reminds parents that the bottom loop nearest the school is for quick pick-ups and drop-offs only; people who want to park and wait for their kids should use the parking lot.

Apart from traffic, the school day itself was a good one. Suckert said teachers and kids moved right into their academic routines as soon as the bell rang at 8:20 a.m. Classes and lunch times all seemed to go smoothly.

"By and large, it was just a very good day," he said. "And things will continue to get better as we move along."

The day went off without a hitch at the high school, too.

High School Principal Darren Wolf said the ninth grade class arrived right away in the morning to spend a few hours with a group of upperclassmen Link Leaders, getting to know the school and their peers better through special seminars.

"It's a nice way to start our freshman off," he said of the first-day programming. "The Link Leaders cheer them on as they're coming in for the morning."

The rest of the 10th through 12th graders arrived at lunchtime, and then the entire school took part in a pep fest and spirit flag competition to kick the year off on a celebratory note. Kids received their Chromebooks, and then spent the afternoon meeting their teachers and briefly visiting their classrooms.

"It was a good start to the year," Wolf said. "A good overall first day. I think everybody's excited to be back and get going."

He added that "the bubble of kids is finally hitting the high school," with classrooms full and the gym "bursting at the seams" during the pep fest: "So it's very noticeable that all of a sudden we are hitting that point where we don't have enough space for all the kids (in the gym)."

There's still enough classroom space, he said, but "we're going to be squeezed."

Superintendent Froke, who visited all the schools on Tuesday to talk to students and staff and get a feel for how things were going, said that from an organizational standpoint, there were no major issues as people adjusted into their new routines.

"That means we were able to communicate schedules and everything pretty well, in advance," he said. "So everybody knew where they needed to be. It took on a very businesslike stance for the first day."

As of Friday, enrollment across the district was up by 34 students over the close of last school year, Froke reported — a statistically insignificant difference that "means we're basically even."

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

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