KINGSPORT -- Despite snarled Bloomingdale traffic and some parts of Ketron Elementary School still off limits for school use, the region's newest and most populated elementary school had its first day of classes Monday.
The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school and about 760 students Monday had their first day of school -- actually a half day -- along with the other schools in Sullivan County's public school system.
Families of Ketron students said they had issues with the traffic backups, being told not to accompany their children to their classes, and an 11th-hour open house announced Saturday afternoon and held Sunday afternoon.
However, Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie said the traffic would improve, parents insistent on going to class with their students weren't turned away, and about 1,000 people attended the open house Sunday.
The school was expanded and renovated with $15 million in low-interest federal funds and will serve every pre-K through fifth-grade student in the Sullivan North High School zone.
"We had a great day," Yennie said of Ketron and the system as a whole. "The big picture we need to be reminded of is we opened today."
Ketron co-Principals Sandra Ramsey and Wendell Smith were busy Monday and could not be reached for comment.
However, Tyler Brooks said he spent 45 minutes getting his son into Ketron and more than an hour waiting to get him. He had to use his lunch hour time to do the pickup and drop-off.
Brooks said he was the sixth car in line for pickup at 10:20 a.m., school dismissed about 11:35 a.m., and he didn't leave with his son until 12:40 p.m.
Margaret Churchwell said it took her 30 minutes to drop off her granddaughters, grades one and three, and about an hour to pick them up even though at 10 a.m. she was third in line for pickups.
"We'll work through the traffic situation," Yennie promised.
Churchwell said her granddaughters like the school but were overwhelmed by the large building since they were used to the much smaller Brookside Elementary.
"He loved it," Brooks said of his second-grade son's opinion of the first day of school. "He had a good first day."
Brooks said he'll be happy with the school as long as the traffic gridlock and unfinished construction don't impede his son's education. He said riding a bus is not an option because he has no one to watch his son at home in the afternoon, and the morning bus ride would start at 6:20 a.m., two hours before the 8:20 a.m. school starting time.
Jim Burchfield, a great-grandfather of a third-grader and fifth-grader at Ketron, said it was not right to send students who'd never been in the building to classrooms alone.
"They had never been in the building in their life," Burchfield said, adding that his granddaughter does not have e-mail or Internet access and missed the notification of the open house. It was placed on the Ketron Web site Saturday and e-mailed to parents with e-mail addresses on file that day.
Brooks said he got the e-mail notice and attended with his son, but the last-minute notice was not an acceptable way to do business in his mind.
"Everybody does not get e-mail," Burchfield said Monday afternoon. "This whole thing has been a mess."
"I made the decision Saturday afternoon to have an open house," Yennie said, adding that it wasn't until then that he could be assured contractors would be out of the building and it would be safe and accessible for the public.
Yennie said 994 people signed a visitors log Sunday afternoon during the open house.
"We probably had well over a thousand people visit the school yesterday," Yennie said Monday afternoon.
The gym floor, used as a staging area for contractors, and the art area remain off limits for student use. Yennie said another open house will be scheduled later, possibly in September, and could be done by grade levels on different days.
"We've still got some work to do," Yennie said.