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Blandford Elementary School awash in ‘newness’
LaToya Jones
Principal LaToya Jones (left) engages with a parent during Saturday’s “Popsicles & Popcorn with the Principals” at Blandford Elementary School. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — The new school year will feature more “newness” at Blandford Elementary School than anywhere else in the Effingham County School District. 

On Thursday, Blandford will use 16 new classrooms for the first time. They will be filled by kindergartners and first graders.

“As of now, we have enrolled at least 100-plus new students, which puts us over the 900 mark,” Principal LaToya Jones said. 

The enrollment jump forced a significant staffing increase at the school.

“We have 18 new staff members,” Jones said. “That includes our paraprofessionals, our new teachers and a new counselor. There’s just a lot of newness here at Blandford.”

On Saturday, the school opened its doors for “Popsicles & Popcorn with the Principals.” The two-hour event was designed to help students and parents adjust to their new educational setting.

School starts Thursday.

“I received phone calls from a lot of South parents who were just asking what is new and just wanting to celebrate Blandford," Jones said. "We came up with this event for that opportunity so that they could see the school, see what it looks like before (Monday’s) open house so that they can get rid of the jitters that most people have when they go to a new place.”

Blandford’s faculty and staff was on hand for the occasion.

“It’s for new students and old students,” Jones said. “We want people to know that we are a family and we are going to continue to have that family atmosphere while we are learning.”

That is the kind of atmosphere that the Effingham County Board of Education envisions for each of its 14 schools. As a whole, the district expects to start 2022-23 with about 600 more students than it ended with in 2021-22.

“Our school district continues to grow at a rapid pace and I am so thankful to the dedicated employees that continue to amaze me with their work ethic, high standards of excellence and the willingness to help all students succeed,” Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford said. “The Effingham County School District is a special place because of the students, staff, board and families in our community.” 

Ashley and Jonathan Stetson were appreciative of the opportunity to get a sneak peek of their first-grade son Grady’s new school. Like many new arrivals, he attended kindergarten at South Effingham Elementary last year but rezoning forced a switch. His sister Harper will start kindergarten at Blandford.

“We were nervous (about the change) but we just got a tour of the school so I am a little more comfortable,” Ashley said. “The setup here is nice for kindergarten and first grade.”

The Stetson kids are excited about wearing Blandford’s blue uniform shirts. 

Jones has worked at Blandford since it opened in 2006. She is starting her sixth year as principal.

“I’m definitely glad that we are growing,” Jones said. “That’s one of the things that I like about being a principal — getting to know new people and getting to hire new people.”

“I’m so thankful Dr. Ford and his cabinet for their support,” Jones added. “They have supported us through this whole journey of adding the new wing. The construction company has been wonderful.

“It’s just been a great start.”