ATLANTA - Tens of thousands of metro Atlanta school students returned to school on Wednesday bringing a sudden end to summer and lighter traffic.
Thirteen school districts started the 2013-2014 school year including Atlanta, Cobb, Gwinnett, Bartow, Barrow, Buford, Clarke, Douglas, Fannin, Oconee, Heard, Pickens and Cartersville.
Channel 2 Action News reporters spent the morning outside several schools capturing the flurry of activity.
Cobb County schools are making bus safety one of their top priorities this year. Twenty percent of school buses are now equipped with stop arm cameras, about 200 of 1,000.
Drivers said the cameras are needed because so many drivers drive past stopped buses as children get on and off the vehicle.
The program seems to be working. Cobb County officials reported about 1,600 violations a day before the program, and last year that number dropped to 500 a day.
Drivers who are caught face a $300 fine for the first offense and $1,000 for a second offense.
Channel 2’s Sophia Choi reported outside the new Smyrna Elementary on Wednesday. The school is the first LEED certified school in Cobb County.
“I have a nicely lit room with solar panels, gives the children a sense of daylight outside and warmth and being welcomed,” teacher Carla Jackson told Choi.
The largest school district in Georgia is getting bigger. Channel 2’s Darryn Moore spent the morning outside Chattahoochee Elementary in Gwinnett County.
Enrollment in Gwinnett County increased by more than 1,600 students this year, according to officials.
Teachers spent Tuesday putting the finishing touches on classrooms and organizing for students.
“As a teacher I think we are just as nervous as the kids,” second grade teacher Jennifer Albrecht said.
More than 1,100 students attend Chattahoochee, many of them new this year.
“The thing I’m looking forward to most is seeing all the new faces and being able to connect with them and get those little light bulbs to go off,” Albrecht said.
Gwinnett County Schools are rolling out a new pilot program called the E-Class curriculum and instruction tool.
It’s an online digital resource for students to check assignments, get reading materials and collaborate with others.
City of Atlanta
The most expensive public school in Georgia history opens its doors on Wednesday.
Channel 2 Action News first reported that the new North Atlanta High School is opening at a cost to taxpayers of $148 million dollars.
Atlanta School Board chairman Reuben McDaniel told Channel 2 Action News that the money is well spent and taxpayers can expect a jump in graduation rates of 15 to 20 percent in five years.
"Our students deserve to come to places that are the highest possible technology, that have great learning environments,” McDaniel said.
State Rep. Ed Lindsey said he’s not convinced the money is well spent.
“If we have graduation rates of 90 to 95 percent I'll start think that it's worth it. Anything short of that, I'm going to start thinking we've built a Taj Mahal," Lindsey said.
Last year’s graduation rate at North Atlanta was about 61 percent.
Channel 2’s Ryan Young has learned officers at Atlanta Public Schools will be working this year to identify students who skip school repeatedly.
Parents and teachers told administrators they wanted more security after two school shootings last year. A student at Price Middle School was shot in the neck and a teenage girl carrying a gun shot herself in the leg at Grady High School. Both students survived.
Young spoke with Atlanta police Major Keith Meadows who is in charge of integrating offices into the schools. Seventy police officers will be assigned to middle and high schools and responding when needed.
“Parents should expect to see officers walking around and engaging the students. We are asking the officers to be a little bit of everything, mentors and police, a high level of engagement,” Meadows said.
Officials are also asking school resource officers to identify the ten most truant children in each school and they will be responsible for building a relationship and checking on them in their classes, according to Meadows.
New traffic levels
Commuters and parents can expect new levels of traffic as schools resume throughout north Georgia this month. Stay on top of any delays with Triple Team Traffic on Channel 2 Action News and on Twitter. Follow @WSBTraffic to get instant updates and you can download the Triple Team Traffic app for you iPhone.
Get updates on traffic and weather from Severe Weather Team 2 every day of the school year on Channel 2 Action News from 4:30 to 7 a.m.