Education

‘State of the art.’ Lexington’s newest, largest elementary opens on first day of school.

The largest public elementary school ever built in Lexington opened on the first day of school Wednesday with features including two piano labs, a dance studio, and a place for kids to make science and technology projects.

The 80,000 square feet Brenda Cowan Elementary on Athens-Boonesboro Road, was on target to be 80 percent completed Wednesday with some classrooms opening after school starts, said principal Josh Williams.

Between 450 and 500 students were expected to start Wednesday at the school that will ultimately hold 750.

The building has lots of natural light, light colors and an airy feel, Williams said.

“We like it because we think it helps inspire creativity,” he said.

He said there is space in the state-of-the-art library for kids to create academic projects. The building will have two piano labs and a dance studio.

Art, music, drama and dance are among the arts that will be integrated throughout the day.

Williams said in preparing to open Cowan, he researched the benefits of incorporating the performing arts into academics and he and his staff visited elementary schools of performing arts in Louisville and Cincinnati.

“We decided arts was the best route,” he said.

By 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Williams said, “everything has been smooth.”

Schuronda Morton, Senior Director of School Leadership in Fayette County Schools told the Herald-Leader’s reporting partner WKYT-TV that nearly 43,000 students would start school Wednesday.

Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk said in a statement late Wednesday that a “record number” of students returned to campus. District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the exact number was not available: “We’re still getting good data.”

Deffendall said after 5 p.m. that there had been no first day problems.

At the new school, Taylor Roden said educators at Cowan have been getting to know each other since February.

“We’ve been ...just having a really good time setting up,” Roden told the Herald-Leader Friday. “We are prepared as far as curriculum goes.”

Music Teacher Joseph Wrightson said he was excited to “dive head first into this art integration aspect of Brenda Cowan.”

On Wednesday morning, Nancy and Clay Gatewood, dropped off Cody, a third-grader, and daughter Victoria, who is in kindergarten.

“The architectural design is wonderful it’s all state of the art,” said Clay Gatewood.. “They still have obviously some things to finish. Once it gets completely finished I think it will be a really, really great school.”

At the urging of many community members, the school was named after the late Lexington firefighter Brenda Cowan, who died in 2004.

“She was a hard worker with a great attitude and an unmatched sense of humor,” Lexington Fire Chief Kristin Chilton said during a ribbon cutting Monday, according to the school district website. “She was the type of person you’d want your child to be like.”

Cowan was fatally shot while responding to a domestic disturbance call.

Kids love a display in the school that honors Cowan with her medal of valor and helmet.

“Brenda was a huge part of our fire family,” said Chilton, who had trained with Cowan, the first black woman in the Lexington Fire Department. Cowan’s death prompted procedure changes to help ensure firefighters’ safety, the district’s website said.

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