By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — Despite an unusually early start to the year and heavy construction around two sites, Andover schools opened without a hitch yesterday.
Staff at the town’s 10 public schools were reporting solid attendance yesterday as Andover Public Schools returned after a shortened, nine-week summer vacation. The vacation was short because of a late end last year and the town scheduling a pre-Labor Day opening this year.
Schools start next Tuesday in North Andover (Wednesday for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten) and next Wednesday in Methuen (Friday for pre-school and kindergarten).
School started last week in Lawrence as part of an effort to extend learning time in the underperforming school district.
The early start in Andover prompted concerns about low attendance for Day One of 180 school days, but schools reported that simply wasn’t the case.
“We had very good attendance today,” West Middle School Principal Steve Murray said. “There were a handful that didn’t come, and parents let us know ahead of time.”
Over at Sanborn Elementary School, Principal Patricia Barrett said the school had a few families still vacationing overseas during opening week, but beyond that, “we’re in pretty good shape over here.”
Others gave numbers showing strong first-day showings. Out of 110 first- and second-graders expected to attend the first day, Shawsheen School reported only six absences. West Elementary School had 17 students missing out of 658, and Wood Hill Middle School had barely a dozen students absent.
Those numbers reflected typical day-to-day absences, according to school staff.
Liz Roos, West Elementary School principal, said her students “were pumped to be back.”
“They’re so anxious to meet their teachers,” she said.
That’s not to say the early return was popular among parents, however.
“We didn’t like it at all,” West Middle School parent Lesley Shahbazian said.
The shortened vacation window gave the family “less time to prepare,” father John Shahbazian said. “It’s less time to squeeze in all of the things we wanted to do.”
Jody Ramasamy, mother of three Bancroft Elementary School children, said there was little family time available once students worked their way through the season’s summer camps.
“It was difficult,” she said. “I’m sad that I have to let my kids go.”
A $2.5 million project to redo all paved areas around Doherty Middle School also posed no problem.
The project was expected to take four months, but work was crunched into a two-month window to have as little impact on the school year as possible, Ihor Raniuk, town construction project manager, said.
With buses rolling, all sidewalks, driveways, drop-off areas and parking around the school have been resurfaced. More paving is expected to add a second layer of asphalt once construction of the neighboring Cormier Family Youth Center is finished, Raniuk said.
Police details were necessary to make sure student drop-off at the school went smoothly yesterday, Andover Police Officer Chuck Edgerly said.
“Everybody was very patient, as well as faculty and parents,” Edgerly, the town’s public safety officer, said. “We’ll still be up there for the next few days to make sure everybody is able to go where they need to go safely.”
Meanwhile, there was a slight sense of sadness for staff at Bancroft Elementary School as students started their first day of the year for the last time in the old school.
At the end of the year, the school’s operations will be switched to a new, 680-student school being built in front of it, making the class of 2014 the final class to move through the old school building.
Roxanne Siff, a third-grade teacher at the school, said the day was bittersweet for her.
“This is the only building I’ve ever taught in, so for me this is like my home.”
Malcolm Forsman, the school’s principal, enters his second year at the helm of the castle-like school. He said the building’s final year will look “a lot like all of the other years at Bancroft. It’s important to keep up the standards and routine for children.”
But at the same time, “there’s that end of the year that’s going to come, and we’re going to realize that this Bancroft isn’t going to be open anymore,” he said.
Since construction of the new school started last year, access to the school shifted to neighboring West Knoll Road. Police were on scene yesterday to help with traffic flow, Edgerly said, as parents returned to the daily drop-off routine.
Even with the construction, it was business as usual.
“A few new drivers, but I thought it went very smoothly,” Edgerly said. “We gave them a hand with their kindergarten orientation (yesterday) morning also, but everyone at Bancroft still had it in their mind what they needed to do.”
Next year, Edgerly said, “it will be a whole new ball game.”