A new school year got underway Tuesday for a majority of Minnesota students, and across the metro area the accent was on the new.
New shoes. New start times. New principals. New clothes — even uniforms pulled together at the last minute.
The governor and the state's education commissioner got in on the action, too, and while both know their way around a classroom, the opportunity to help kick off a school year in their high-profile positions was a first for them, too.
Proof again that a good fresh start never gets old.
Parents of six prepare for school send-off
There's nothing quite like starting a new year in new running shoes, and Ikram Alibos, sporting a spectacular neon pink pair Tuesday, had the added plus of now being a fifth-grader.
That means she's one of the big kids at Pillsbury Elementary in Minneapolis — a fact she was keen to share as she waited for the school's traditional opening day red-carpet ceremony.
Nearby, her father, Abdirizak Alibos, leaned in to her twin brothers, Rayan and Ridwan, second-graders wearing matching backpacks. He put his hands on their shoulders and said, "Today's the first day of school. I hope you have a great day. And behave well."
It was a fun morning for the Alibos children. Their mother, Hana Mohammed, prepared breakfast a half-hour early at 6 a.m. She lined up the backpacks and the school supplies and Ikram's clarinet along the living-room wall. Father and son Ridwan exchanged a fist bump at the dining room table.
Later, outside the school, Abdirizak explained how the family appreciated Pillsbury and how in two days — when 4-year-old Kamal starts preschool on Thursday — all six of the family's children will have walked through its doors.
Then, Principal Jessica Skowronek approached, and Abdirizak asked how her summer went. She said it had been a good one.
"Are you rested?" he asked.
"I don't know if I'm rested, but these babies are here, and it's all that matters," she said.
Greetings from governor
Students hopping off the bus Tuesday morning at Sheridan Hills Elementary in Richfield were greeted by a high-profile cheering squad.
Gov. Tim Walz and state Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker were waiting just outside the doors of each bus, eagerly greeting each student — and the bus drivers — with high-fives and handshakes.
"This is a great place to be!" Walz exclaimed, as he crouched down to meet the students at eye level.
Speaking to reporters once the students were all inside, the DFL governor and commissioner, both former teachers, said they'd been reminiscing about the feeling of starting a new school year.
"We've been talking about how the classroom smells on the first day," Walz said. "It's all shiny, it's new, and the kids are coming in their best dress."
A wave of new principals
At 6:45 a.m., new Principal Melisa Rivera stood outside the front door of St. Paul's Crossroads Elementary School, eagerly waiting for students and staff to arrive. A few minutes before the school's 7:30 a.m. start time, anxious parents and hundreds of students trickled in.
"Buenos días!" "As-salaam alaikum!" "Nyob zoo!" "Good morning!" Rivera cried out in excitement.
Some stopped to give her hugs and high-fives. Others sped by. But one first-grader who came to school without a proper school uniform — polo shirt and khaki pants, skirt or dress — and a mother who had been incarcerated and therefore couldn't register her child on time grabbed Rivera's attention the most. Hurriedly, she opened a room full of brand-new uniforms and gave a set to the student. She told the parent who needed to register her child for school that she would get back to her in 24 hours.
Rivera is among 15 new principals in St. Paul Public Schools, the largest number of new school building leaders since 2014. Meanwhile, nearly 10 schools in the Minneapolis school district welcomed new leaders.
For Rivera, being a principal is not much different from what she experienced two decades ago on the first day of school as a Crossroads kindergarten teacher. Only this time she's tending to nearly 700 students and more than 60 employees whose problems she considers hers, too.
"Today is the day that we're all shining," she said. "It's the best of the best."
New St. Cloud Tech debuts
Students and teachers returning to class Tuesday at St. Cloud's Tech High School had a good excuse if they got a little turned around in the school's hallways.
The first day of the school year was also the first day of classes in the new, $105 million high school, built after decades of discussion and planning. Crews are still doing some finish work, including putting the final touches on the school's auditorium, but Principal Charlie Eisenreich said the building is ready to provide a very different learning experience than the more than century-old school it replaces.
Among the features of the new Tech High: more classroom spaces — which the school is calling "learning studios" — designed for multiple uses and a setting for outdoor learning, with a nearby woodlands and protected trout stream.
Eisenreich said early tours of the building for teachers and staff prompted "a lot of 'wows.' "
"It's just a different learning environment for us from what we had at the old Tech," he said. "[We've moved] from closed, drab-looking spaces to lots of bright light and open spaces — kind of like a collegiate feel."
St. Paul start times
A move that had been years in the making — the flipping of school start times for elementary and secondary students in St. Paul — appeared to go off without a hitch on Tuesday.
Nearly 10,000 elementary students began their school day for the first time at 7:30 a.m.
Superintendent Joe Gothard was on hand at Battle Creek Elementary, and he heard from parents and students about having to adjust to new routines but not about any major busing concerns, he said.
Midmorning, Gothard went to Central High, where some of the students who are to be the prime beneficiaries of the start-time changes now get to sleep an hour longer.
Ila Dovre Wudali, a senior who was already allowed to push back the clock for medical reasons, knows the benefits of late starts. She is excited about the change going districtwide.
Teens can improve academically and socially if they get more sleep, research shows.
And how about Dovre Wudali — is she a good student?
"I have a 4.2 grade-point average," she said. "I'd say it's pretty good."
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109 Erin Golden • 612-673-4790 Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203