Education

It's the first day of school for 37,000 Lexington students, and for new principal

Meredith Dunn, in her first year as Northern Elementary School principal, greeted students Wednesday as they arrived for the first day of the 2010-11 school year.
Meredith Dunn, in her first year as Northern Elementary School principal, greeted students Wednesday as they arrived for the first day of the 2010-11 school year.

Meredith Dunn arrived at Lexington's Northern Elementary School well before 7 Wednesday morning — at least an hour before the first students were due — feeling perhaps just a bit anxious, wanting to leave nothing to chance.

It was, after all, the first day of school, and Dunn's first day as a principal, the realization of a dream she's held at least since college.

"It seems so quiet in here right now, but I just feel like I need to get everything done quickly," Dunn said. "I'm very excited. I'm ready."

Teachers and staffers filtered into the building. Outside, parents and kids were gathering in front of the school's main entrance. Dunn, 29, bustled around the front office, greeting people with a beaming smile, checking to make sure all was ready. Just before opening the doors at 7:55 a.m., Dunn flipped on the school intercom.

"Here we go," she told teachers and staff. "Have a great first day."

Similar scenes were played out all across Lexington on Wednesday as the Fayette County Public Schools opened to welcome 37,000 youngsters for the start of the 2010-11 school year.

Fayette Schools spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said late Wednesday the first day of classes went relatively smoothly, despite a few glitches. Lafayette High School and the adjacent School for the Creative and Performing Arts lost electrical power shortly before noon, but service was restored after about 35 minutes. Phones and computers at about a dozen schools shut down in the afternoon, but that problem was repaired within about 20 minutes, Deffendall said.

The district also canceled outdoor athletic practices on Wednesday because of the heat, Deffendall said.

At Northern, Dunn had some issues of her own when the air conditioning in one first-grade classroom went on the fritz.

"You'd know that on the first day of school the air conditioning would go out," Dunn sighed, shaking her head. A repairman was summoned, and the problem was soon fixed.

Dunn spent most of the morning in a blur of activity. Greeting and hugging students as they streamed into the school. Making announcements. Helping Carlos Hagan get his son, Tony Sullivan, 9, enrolled in fourth grade. Hugging more kids. Making sure people didn't park at the front curb and block the school buses that were arriving. Helping another parent with records she needed to get her children enrolled. Trying to figure out why a student who was enrolled didn't appear in the school computer. Answering questions. Visiting classrooms. Giving directions. Answering more questions. In the office one minute, at the other end of the building the next.

Somehow, Dunn found some time in the middle of it all to talk with a tearful little boy who was struggling with the pangs of homesickness. Dunn eventually led him down the hall to a quiet room, sat on the floor next to him, and told him everything would be OK.

Whether such tasks appear on a principal's job description or not, they're part of what's involved in making an elementary school function.

Dunn insisted later that, despite the apparently chaotic atmosphere, all the little problems and tasks were routine for the opening day of school.

"It's all good," she said. "You just take care of them and move ahead."

This is for what Dunn has been training. She is one of nine new principals in Fayette County. Dunn was the curriculum coach at Northern Elementary the past two years. She previously taught at Lansdowne Elementary. Her husband, Jared Dunn, is an engineer.

This is the seventh year in education for Dunn, who grew up in Cynthiana.

"I always knew I wanted to be a teacher; I loved to play school when I was a kid," she said. "I really don't know why I chose this path; no one else in my immediate family has been in education.

"I guess I was in college when I started thinking about being a principal. I started moving in that direction, trying to see if it was what I was cut out to do."

Dunn was selected as Northern's principal over the winter, succeeding Meribeth Gaines, who left to become principal of the new elementary under construction on Keithshire Way.

After her first day in the job, Dunn said she thought it might well be the thing she was cut out to do.

"Working with people ... being able to have an impact on the kids ... that's what drives me," she said.

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