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Changes on first day of school





While each year features at least a few new things for any school, there was an abundance of first-time happenings for Ellis County schools, three in particular, on the first day of school Thursday.

Hays Middle School had its first official day of classes under its new name, as did Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior High, also in Hays.

And approximately 16 miles to the west of Hays, students at St. Mary School in Ellis came to class with uniforms for the first time.

Thanks to the donation of a former parishioner at St. Mary Catholic Church, students at the elementary school were able to purchase uniforms that will be worn a couple times a week.

"It kind of goes with our mission statement, with Christian values and academic achievement," Principal Jim Moeder said. "We teach modesty, and with the way fashion trends are now, it's hard for young people to follow that. So this is another way to unify our students."

The khaki pants (or skirts) and blue polo shirts with an embroidered school logo will be worn Tuesdays and Thursdays, while school T-shirts with blue jeans can be worn the other three days.

"It's kind of neat when we go to different functions, we are dressed the same with our school spirit shirts anyway," Moeder said. "Now, it's just on a daily basis.

"I could tell a sense of pride today, just the way they looked at each other."

TMP Jr. High off the ground

In Hays, 121 students in seventh- and eighth-grade also started the 2012-13 school year in uniform, at the new TMP-Marian Junior High.

Those students, combined with the 235 enrollees in grades nine through 12, make for a full house this year under the direction of Principal Bill DeWitt.

"I'm really glad school finally started," said DeWitt, who was instrumental in helping get the junior high off the ground. "I'm fortunate to have a good staff. They didn't doubt when we said we were going to do this. They just got in line and said, 'Let's get this done.' "

The closing in June of Kennedy Middle School, for many years one of two middle schools in Hays USD 489, prompted changes for both the public school system as well as Hays Catholic Schools.

Holy Family Elementary School services youngsters in preschool through sixth grade, and traditionally, most TMP-bound students attended middle school at Kennedy. After Kennedy closed, TMP added seventh- and eighth-grade classes to its curriculum, creating a seamless Catholic education from preschool through 12th grade.

Building new traditions

With the closing of Kennedy, public school students transferred to Felten Middle School, which was renamed Hays Middle School beginning this school year.

Principal Craig Pallister said the first day of school with more students in the building went well.

"Everything is different, everything is new," Pallister said.

Well, not exactly.

While there are a lot of new students, as well as several USD 489 staff members new to the building, their leader is the same.

Pallister is beginning his 20th year in the HMS building. He worked four years as assistant principal at Felten before taking over as principal in 1997.

Pallister said he is looking forward to the inaugural year of HMS along with the 605 students and all the staff in the building.

"We talked this morning about how this is the start of a new tradition," said Pallister, who noted this year's theme is "Believe."

"I told the students that I believe we have the best middle school in the state of Kansas," he said. "But you have to set your goals to believe that, too."

Business as usual

Meanwhile, it was a routine first day of school at the two oldest school buildings in Hays.

Coincidentally, Washington Elementary School and Lincoln Elementary School -- both built in 1925 -- also have the longest tenured principals in the Hays district.

Allen Park will begin his 29th year at Washington, his 23rd as principal, while Elaine Rohleder this year is celebrating her 20th anniversary as Lincoln's principal.

Both schools have classes for preschool through fifth grade.