McHENRY – With the video recorder running on his smart phone, Don Hensley followed his son Tyson from the parking lot to the entrance of Chauncey H. Duker School for his first day of fifth grade.
“Dad's videotaping me. It's embarrassing,” Tyson said to his friends as they quickly headed down the hallway. Hensley was bent over in laughter.
Monday wasn't just Tyson's first day; it was also a first for Hensley, who has never been able to take his son to the first day of school.
Divorced from Tyson's mother, Hensley has always conceded the first day of school.
“It's always fallen on her day,” he said. “I've always stayed off on the sidelines and waited for my week … Last year, even though I had him, she wanted to take him. You can't really argue with that. This year was my week, and [I told her], 'You're not taking him.'”
Hensley and thousands of other McHenry parents waved goodbye to summer vacation as Districts 15 and 156 started back Monday, the first public schools in the county to resume class. Some parents happily pulled in to Duker's parking lot, with the car barely stopping as the kids ran toward their friends. Others, like Stacy Gende, had a harder time letting go.
“What I would do with 10 more days,” she said as her daughter Kelly ran through the parking lot for her first day of fourth grade. “You're with them all summer. You just become buddies. And then they take them from you. They're excited, so you want to be excited for them. You want to see them grow. This is good for them.”
Kids lined up outside with their teachers before the morning bell. Some teachers bemoaned being the first district in McHenry County to start back up. Principal Debbie Holliday directed the foot traffic. The first day went smoothly, except for the couple of kids who were more than a half hour late after getting on the wrong bus.
“Probably a new driver,” Holliday said. “Every first day has its quirks. Little unexpected things happen.”
Monday was Holliday's 13th first day at Duker. In total she has spent nearly four decades in public education, and she said each first day is new and exciting.
“I think with every time you have a first day there's always that anxiety,” she said. “There's always that excitement. The fear of the unknown.”
Over at District 156, McHenry West High School Principal Marsha Potthoff is experiencing her first day at her new position, and admitted to feeling little like a freshman as she starts her new job.
“The spirit is really high and the culture is really positive,” she said. “We're off to a good start.”
Formerly the principal of Crystal Lake South, Potthoff starts as big changes are in place at the district. Roughly 30 teachers at the high school are piloting a standards-based report card, which provides parents a much more detailed assessment of how their child is performing in a class.
Along with the traditional A-F grade, students are evaluated in specific areas of the course. For example, in geometry, students are assessed on how well they know proofs, angles, etc. based on a scale of mastery, proficient, emerging, and struggling.
“We're trying to increase communication with our students and parents about what students really can and can't do in our classes,” said Brent Raby, director of curriculum instruction at District 156. “What areas need more focus and what are they doing well?”
A handful of teachers are also piloting a learning management software called Canvas, which creates an online portal for students to access class notes, lecture recordings and practice work.
“It allows for online collaboration,” Raby said. “Students can even set up video chats for study groups.”
District 156 wants to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, Raby said. And by the time Don Hensley's son Tyson makes it to high school, the district plans to give him all the technological tools he needs.
“This kid, he's my son, but he's the exact opposite of what I was,” Hensley said. “All I cared about was sports. He loves school. He wants to be an engineer, so he's really starting to dig into what he needs to do that.”
Here's a list of when area students return to school:
• Nippersink District 2: August 21
• Fox River Grove District 3: August 21
• Johnsburg District 12: August 20
• McHenry Elementary District 15: August 12
• Riley District 18: August 20
• Alden-Hebron District 19: August 19
• Cary District 26: August 26
• Harrison District 36: August 21
• Prairie Grove District 46: August 21
• Crystal Lake District 47: August 28
• Harvard District 50: August 21
• Marengo High School District 154: August 19
• Crystal Lake High School District 155: August 26
• McHenry High School District 156: August 12
• Richmond-Burton High School District 157: August 21
• Huntley District 158: August 21
• Marengo-Union District 165: August 19
• Woodstock District 200: August 15
• Carpentersville District 300: August 14