The excitement, the laughter, even the occasional tears — all the usual back-to-school emotions were on display in South Florida on Monday.
And for the first time, Broward Superintendent of Schools Robert Runcie was able to take it all in.
Runcie, a former chief of staff to the Chicago Board of Education, became Broward’s schools chief in October — too late to witness the annual arrival of more than 258,000 students. On Monday, Runcie hop-scotched from Hollywood to Davie to Pompano Beach, visiting six schools in total.
“It really is energizing,” Runcie said. “It’s inspiring to see all the children back, just the look on their faces, the smiles.”
Runcie’s first first day also included its fair share of criticism, however. School bus passes that are sent to children — which indicate their bus stop and pickup time — were mailed two days late. The superintendent blamed the delay partially on upgrades to the district’s internal bus routing system. Instead of being sent out last Monday, the passes were mailed on Wednesday. Runcie called it a “minor glitch” that didn’t impact most families.
Jim Silvernale of the Federation of Public Employees, the union that represents bus drivers, had a different view.
“A disgrace,” is what Silvernale called the delayed mailings. Silvernale said nearly 4,500 families had been affected by the mix-up, many of whom had to drive their children to school because they couldn’t figure out when and where the school bus would arrive. Silvernale said the school district’s sloppy effort at centralizing its bus routing system was the cause, and that computer system upgrades were being used as a convenient scapegoat.
“There’s no computer glitch,” Silvernale said.
For most of the day, though, bus route hiccups were overshadowed by principals, teachers, parents and students embracing the annual back-to-school ritual.
“I love it, I love having the students back. For me, this is why we’re here,” said Elaine Saef, principal at Panther Run Elementary in Pembroke Pines. Before the first bell, she ran around answering parents’ questions and directing students to their classrooms.
Parent Monica Perez, who works in sales, arrived early at 7 a.m. Her children, Adriana and Ryan Juan, spent the summer taking karate classes and visiting Universal Studios. Monday the school routine returned.
“We took out the uniforms, iron the uniforms. We had to get the nails done, the hair done, it’s like a wedding,” she said.
Second-grader Brianna Vanantwerp brought a bouquet of flowers for her teacher, Mrs. Trager. Others were new and nervous for their first day. When Marie Alvarez dropped her son Aidan off for his first day of kindergarten, he started to cry. She felt like crying, too.
“I feel so sad. We drove every day in front of the school to prepare, telling him it’s big boy school. We had a special breakfast this morning with chocolate chips with pancakes,” Alvarez said.
At Hollywood’s Orange Brook Elementary School, the Heat took center stage — in more ways than one.
Two Miami Heat players, Norris Cole and Dexter Pittman, were on hand as part of a school supplies giveaway sponsored by Office Depot. But the event led to hundreds of parents and students having to wait in line in the actual heat – as in, South Florida’s sticky August sun.