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Polk schools kick off school year Aug. 25

Tryon Elementary first-grade teacher Diane Guffey brought foster dog “Hans” to meet her new students Tuesday, Aug. 23. Pictured with Guffey are first-graders Elysia Smith (middle) and Christa Price. (photo by Leah Justice)

About 2,500 students will embark on a new school year in Polk County schools Thursday, Aug. 25.
Superintendent Bill Miller said each one of those students counts as much as the other and a focus on individual kids will continue to drive local school administrators and teachers to provide the best education possible.
“We’re expecting a great year and this is always an exciting time of year,” Miller said. “If we keep our focus on the correct thing, which is teaching students each day and working hard with each and every student every day – taking advantage of every single minute we have with students – by the end of the year that will pay off.”
Two major changes for Polk County students came down the pipeline during the summer recess.
First, students will attend school two additional days this year.
Classes will be in session Jan. 2 and April 30, days previously allotted for weather days, for instructional purposes this year.
The state board of education has mandated that all schools add five instructional days to their calendars by the 2012-2013 school year. Polk BOE members decided to ease students, parents and staff into the changes by adding just two this year.
Polk County BOE members also increased the cost of school lunches beginning Thursday, Aug. 25. PreK-fifth grade students will now pay $2.10 for lunch each day, while students in sixth-12th grade will pay $2.30. This is a 10-cent increase for younger students and a five-cent increase for the older grade levels.
This change was made to decrease the gap between what the federal government pays schools for students on the free lunch program and what every other student pays for lunches.
New faces in
administration
Tryon Elementary and Polk County High School students will see new faces taking the lead in administrative positions this school year.
Ott Sizemore replaces longtime principal Walker Williams at Tryon Elementary, while former PCHS assistant principal Mary Feagan takes over as principal at PCHS and social studies teacher Brandon Schweitzer takes on the role of second assistant principal at PCHS.
Sizemore comes to TES from Holly Springs-Motlow Elementary School, where he served as principal. He had served as assistant principal under Walker Williams at Duncan Elementary in South Carolina 18 years ago.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mary Ingle retired from the Polk County School system, which moved PCHS Principal Aaron Greene to the central office as director of curriculum and instruction.
Mary Feagan took over Greene’s position. She has served as PCHS assistant principal for the past eight years. The school board promoted Brandon Schweitzer to her former position.
Schweitzer, a social studies teacher, said he looks forward to his new role.
“I’m very excited about it – it’s something I’ve always aspired in my career to do,” Schweitzer said. “There couldn’t be a better place than Polk to make this move in my career either.”
Schweitzer has worked at PCHS for the past four years, serving one year as the chair of the social studies department. He has also spent the last few years building up the Wolverine wrestling program.
Schweitzer will have to give up working with the wrestling program in order to advance in his career. He said every time someone mentions his having to give up coaching, his heart aches a little bit.
“I poured my heart and soul into the wrestling program here and am really proud of what our wrestlers have accomplished here,” he said.
His new role alongside assistant principal Robert Frost will allow him to impact students and teachers in new ways.
Feagan has restructured the roles of the two assistant principals. Those two positions have in the past divided responsibilities, with one taking discipline and the other instruction. This year Frost and Schweitzer will share both discipline and instructional roles.
“I look forward to being able to help teachers,” Schweitzer said. “Really being a lifeline and support for our teachers out there in the classrooms every day.”

Martin Birenbaum helps his daughter Blair, who is a sixth-grader at Polk County Middle School, fiqure out her locker combination. Blair Birenbaum attended Sunny View Elementary School last year. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

Polk Central Elementary
Polk Central Elementary Principal Dottie Kinlaw said all of her teachers and staff expect to be busy this year looking at new core curriculum standards that must be implemented over the next few years. She said staff members hope to get a lot of use out of a new nature trail created last year and anticipate the use of a grant to create a new outdoor learning center. PCES’ new theme for the year is “Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies,” which will encourage the kids to keep their minds and bodies strong. Kinlaw said an additional staff member on the science team would also encourage the kids to get further excitement out of hands-on learning opportunities.
Saluda Elementary
Saluda Elementary Principal Ronette Dill said the school would continue monthly family fun nights with different activities planned. Dill said staff wanted new and unique ways for parents to get involved with the school. These events have included events like family literacy night.
Saluda Elementary also received a $5,000 grant from the North Carolina Arts Council two weeks ago to fund an artist-in-residency program. Participating artists will be Timmy and Suzanna Abell in October. The artists will do a week-long residency near the end of the month.
Sunny View Elementary
Sunny View Elementary School Principal Kevin Weis said one exciting thing for Sunny View students to look forward to is a school-wide trip.
Weis said the school has received a grant from the Polk County Community Foundation to take the entire school to the Pigeon Forge Aquarium this year.
“That’s not something our kids might typically have the chance to do, so we’re excited about that,” Weis said.
He said teachers and administrators are currently working on the curriculum they will use to guide the trip.
Tryon Elementary
Tryon Elementary Principal Ott Sizemore said he is looking forward to a year of getting to know a lot of new faces as the new principal at TES.
He is also looking forward to a full calendar for the year including a back to school barbecue complete with food and bands for students and their families. The event is currently planned for Sept. 8.
Sizemore also hopes to find more ways to connect the community with the school, including potential lunches with community leaders and fifth-graders.
Polk County Middle School
Polk County Middle School Principal Hank Utz said the school’s staff has an onslaught of new faces because of a round of retirees who left the school after last year. He said the middle school would see about eight new faces in the classrooms.
The school has also added a new foreign exchange teacher in order to continue the Chinese culture class and the addition of Mandarin as an elective course for eighth-graders.
Utz said the school also hosted a two-day instructional workshop for teachers focusing on new homework policies and practices. They also worked on common belief statements for the school. He hopes once those are developed teachers and staff can tie everything back to those core ideas.
“It was a good bonding experience, especially having our new teachers out there to get on the same page for a new school year,” Utz said.

3rd grade teacher Karen Prady meets student Georgia Foster during a “meet and greet” held Tuesday, Aug. 23 at Tryon Elementary School. (photo by Leah Justice)