| By Billy Davis
and Jason Mattox
Panola County public schools welcomed about 6,500 students back to campus this week, signaling the end of summer freedom.
About 4,700 students at South Panola and another 1,800 at North Panola are in classes this week, respective superintendents of those school districts reported.
Another 360 students started classes this week at North Delta School, a private school located west of Batesville, Headmaster Herman Coates said.
"We are down about 20 students from last year, but everyone is still looking forward to a great school year," Coates said. "Our first day went great, and we want to see that continue."
At Batesville Elementary School, Cecil and Tonya Creekmore delivered their children, Cameron and Jayla, to pre-kindergarten classes Wednesday.
"Today was kind of traumatic," reported the father with a grin, explaining that the back-to-school day began at 5 a.m. in a home with three children.
The first child to leave the Creekmore home Wednesday morning was Morrie, a South Panola High student, who hopped on a school bus at 6:30 as a sophomore.
To help ease Cameron and Jayla into new surroundings, the parents shared exciting stories about school and also attended a back-to-school night at BES Tuesday evening.
"The teachers were nice and helpful, and they really showed compassion toward the children, which is what we liked the most," said Tonya Creekmore.
Across town at South Panola High, the school year began Wednesday morning at 7:40 when 1,310 students reported to their first-period classes.
"Our goal was to have them all inside by 8:15 and we had them in by 8:05, so that was a good start to the school year," remarked South Panola High principal Dr. Gearl Loden.
In the first-period classes on the first day of school, teachers were reviewing the obligatory student handbook with students, making note of the high school’s dress code and a new three-minute time limit between classes, the principal said.
"The teachers are also working on community building – helping the students break the ice – since so many of them don’t know their new classmates," Loden said. "This is a big school."
South Panola’s senior class begins the school year with 229 students, Loden said, down from a record-year high of 264 students last year.
South Panola Superintendent Dr. Keith Shaffer said an accurate count of the school district’s enrollment won’t be known until Friday, but agreed that 4,700 students is a likely number.
"We started school last year with about 4,650 students and we expect to be over 4,700 this year," Shaffer told The Panolian.
South Panola enrollment numbers won’t be official until Friday since Batesville Junior High School welcomes its sixth graders Wednesday, and seventh and eighth graders Thursday, and begins with all three grades – about 1,000 students – Friday.
Kindergarten classes will begin Friday with full enrollment after girls attended Wednesday and boys were scheduled to start Thursday.
BES principal Carolyn Graham said the school "stole" the split kindergarten schedule, borrowing the idea from the Tupelo school district.
"The kindergarten teachers think it went much better," Shaffer said. "They’re really pleased."
In Batesville, no fender benders were reported Wednesday around school campuses despite the crush of back-to-school-traffic, said Tony Jones, deputy chief of the Batesville Police Department.
"Today went relatively smooth, a lot smoother than other years, and by next week it’ll be fine," Jones said.
"We had a very smooth first day of school," North Panola Superintendent Glendora Dugger said. "We have a slight increase in student population over last year, but our first day still ran very well."