Cobb County kicks off metro Atlanta’s back-to-school season

Travis Zeugschmidt woke up Monday morning, had a breakfast of chocolate chip muffins and a scrambled egg and headed to elementary school for the first time.

The kindergartner looked overwhelmed in his classroom at Mountain View Elementary as he tried to absorb everything. But the 5-year-old wasn’t the only one confused.

A woman holding the hand of a girl with a blue bow in her hair and another attached to a boy with a backpack from the movie “Cars” meandered the halls of the new school in Marietta trying to figure out where to go.

Emily Merritt brings her pre-schoolers into the building at Mountain View Elementary School in Cobb County. Cobb County schools started back to school Monday, July 31, 2017.

Not only was it the first day of school for Zeugschmidt and — the multi-million-dollar, SPLOST-funded — Mountain View, but Monday marked the earliest return to school among metro Atlanta’s largest public school systems.

Cobb is the second largest school system in Georgia, with almost 113,000 students and 114 schools. Rockdale and Henry counties also started classes Monday, a week before many metro Atlanta schools.

About 12,300 people who weren’t pleased with the early start date in Cobb signed an online petition to show their disapproval, but others are fine with it because they see benefits to the schedule.

Although classes started just one day earlier than last year, that wasn’t good enough for those who disapproved of the trend of bringing students back to their desks earlier and earlier. To dissenters, school starting in July is a symbolic line they don’t want to cross. Some local employers say it also disrupts their summer help, as teenagers must leave jobs for school. But schools across the state have been moving toward shorter summers and more short breaks during the school year.

Ten years ago in 2007, the first day of Cobb classes was Aug. 13.

RELATED: Your guide to the 2017-2018 Cobb County school year

MORE: Cobb County’s school calendar

Julie Ketner is a mom who likes the early start date.

“It doesn’t bother me because it leaves extra days in case of inclement weather,” she said outside Mountain View as her kindergartner and fifth-grader got settled inside.

Kristin Shidneck reads out loud to her kindergarteners at Mountain View Elementary School one the first day of school, July 31, 2017 . JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM.

The academic schedule was approved by the school board about two years ago in September 2015, and includes weeklong breaks in September and February. Some argue that metro Atlanta’s creep to earlier start dates and weeklong breaks has caused ripples seen elsewhere in the state. But some are adapting to the new reality.

“We’re not moving away from summers, but focusing on a yearlong strategy,” said Jessica Scott, a spokeswoman for the Jekyll Island Authority. The island has lost some August business but is also trying to drum up new customers during the added breaks.

“Since most schools in the state now have a full week of break in the fall, winter, and spring, we’re adding marketing efforts to attract visitors during those times,” she said.

In 1998 when Georgia students returned to classes in late August, 73.6 percent of Jekyll Island hotel rooms were rented in August, according to the Jekyll Island tourism group. In 2015, that number was 57.2 percent. This past year, 62.7 percent of rooms in August were booked.

McEachern high school principal, Regina Montgomery (left) takes Cobb County Schools Superintendent, Chris Ragsdale (right) on a tour of the school. Cobb County schools started back to school Monday, July 31, 2017. 

That all seemed very far away from McEachern High School in Powder Springs where students milled about between first and second periods in the center of the the campus, which resembles a college campus.

McEachern principal Regina Montgomery walked Cobb schools superintendent Chris Ragsdale around the tree-shaded campus Monday morning

“First day is just an awesome event. Everybody still has straight A’s (and) football teams are undefeated,” Ragsdale said.

Ragsdale, who was named superintendent in February 2015, said a main goal of his this school year is to keep teachers performing well because he considers them the most important part of the district’s success.

Montgomery and Ragsdale took a stroll to the school’s weight room where the teacher had just taken attendance and Kameron Dahunsi was hanging out with friends. A senior and offensive tackle for the Indians, Dahunsi is no stranger to the weight room.

He wants to major in business at UCLA, so his goal this year is to get his GPA up from 2.8 to 3.8.

“I’ll get there,” he said with a nod.

Visit the AJC’s Ultimate Atlanta School Guide for information on Georgia schools, including which schools are the safest, how many years of experience the average teacher has and which schools have the highest SAT and graduation scores.

Cobb County held a bus ride along for kindergarten and first grade students and their parents today, in preparation for the first day of school on Monday. By Monday, Aug. 7th, more than 700,000 metro Atlanta students will have returned to school. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.