Yellow buses lined up in front of Jenny Lind Elementary School in Minneapolis early Monday morning, as hundreds of students filed into the building and a new principal faced a bevy of new challenges.
"Have a good first day of school!" Pao Vue, the school's new principal, cheered, along with staff members and Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff.
Vue is among a dozen new principals in Minneapolis Public Schools who together must help steer a district facing a deep budget shortfall, intense pressure to raise test scores and a new campaign to ask city voters for more money.
With the stakes so high and with so many new leaders in place, Graff said his goal on the first day of class was to get out to schools with new leaders.
Minneapolis is one of only a few school districts to start before Labor Day, offering a first test of new start times and new administrators.
Classes resumed Monday for students in grades 1 through 12 across the city's public schools; public school preschoolers and kindergartners will start classes on Wednesday.
At Jenny Lind, it's been a tough summer. Students and staff have been coping with two recent tragedies that happened nearby, Vue said. A driver smashed into a playground near the school in June, hitting three children. Also in June, Thurman Blevins was shot by police not far from the school.
"They have had a lot," Graff said. "It's important they have a positive start to the new school year."
Enrollment has been steady at the North Side elementary, which welcomed 450 new and returning students for the 2018-19 school year.
Vue, who was the principal at Elizabeth Hall elementary school in Minneapolis for three years, said taking the top job at Jenny Lind presented an opportunity to return to his neighborhood. "I'm home and this is my community," said Vue, who lives half a mile from the school.
Assistant Principal Elizabeth Corris kicked off the morning by introducing Vue and then blasting music. The fifth-graders followed, reciting the school's morning chant. Messages of encouragement such as "You are important," "You are brave," "You are a creator" and "You are a leader" hung on the door of a first-grade teacher's classroom.
Meanwhile, at the school's main office, parents and students arrived to register and get their bus schedules. Students sported slick haircuts and braided hairstyles.
Vue spoke of his priorities for the coming year: social and emotional learning, parental engagement and the state's Common Core Standards for language arts.
"Social and emotional learning goes hand in hand with academics, and that's going to be our focus this year," he said.
School will wrap up two days early — June 7 — this school year after the school board voted in August to trim this school calendar year by two days. District officials said they will use the days for professional development.
Along with a new school calendar and new principals, many students and families are adjusting to new start times and a new set of security protocols.
More cameras, a single point entry into the building and the addition of a security monitor are some of the changes made to tighten safety at Jenny Lind, Vue said.
The district changed the start times for 20 schools to help address a $33 million budget deficit projected for the new school year, moving most start times more than half an hour later — an estimated $2 million in cost savings.
The new start times push Bancroft, Barton, Bryn Mawr and Wilder Metro schools 70 minutes later. Other schools with large time shifts include Anthony Middle, Franklin Middle and Northeast Middle, which changed by an hour. Jenny Lind started school 65 minutes earlier than usual.
Graff said district leaders are being mindful of how the new time change would affect families and students, noting such benefits as parents getting to work on time and child supervision during and after school.
"We're looking for efficiencies in our transportation as well as cost savings," he said.
On Monday, some parents had a tough time with the change to a 7:30 a.m. start time at Jenny Lind. Gaosheng Lee, who works late into the night, said she struggled to get her first-grader to school on time.
"It's super early, that's why I'm late," said Lee, whose son has been going to the school for two years. But, she added, "I'm super excited and my son enjoys being here."