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Students return back to the classroom
Carroll Fowler rolls out a red carpet greeting
Carroll Fowler greeting
Carroll Fowler Elementary School staff members cheered on students like Zoey Swartz and older brother Eli Swartz as they made their way onto campus for the beginning day of the 2021-22 school year on Aug. 11. The “red carpet” tradition had to be skipped last year because of the pandemic. - photo by Jeff Benziger

In its first-day-of-school tradition of welcoming students to campus as they strolled up a red “carpet” to music with staff waving pom-poms and offering hugs, Carroll Fowler Elementary School staff sensed relief last week that all students are back on campus following the pandemic.

School started for 14,179 students in the Ceres Unified School District on Wednesday and it was apparent that some were feeling anxious since some had not attended in-person class since March 2020. The district had allowed families the option of continuing online instruction via Zoom, or have students attend in-person the latter part of the 2020-21 school year.

They included freshmen just beginning their high school journey, seniors celebrating the end of their own and kindergarteners getting used to the idea of saying goodbye to their family for the day.

The district is requiring students to wear a mask indoors but not outdoors. The majority, however, walked onto campus with their faces covered.

Carroll Fowler Elementary School Principal Arti Narayan said she sensed a new energy to the school year.

“I do think that staff’s excited just to have people back in-person,” she said. She noted that staff members were excited to be able to gather for the staff meeting on Monday, Aug. 9.

“It is just so awesome to not be on Zoom. I know that there’s some people that may not be as happy because they’re not ready but we’re moving forward so hopefully everybody gets on board and is excited.”

She shared that her nephew, who is a sophomore at Gregoris High School in Modesto, has struggled by missing out completely on his freshman year entry from junior high to senior high.

“He’s having a very difficult time and has been really depressed.”  

Also with a new assistant principal in Rocio Valenzuela, Carroll Fowler Elementary offered a high-energy welcoming ceremony for all the students as a red carpet was rolled out leading from the parking lot to the front entrance. There teachers and staff gave hugs and high-fives to students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade. Most of the students wore grins while other smaller kids sport pouting lips at the prospect that summer was over and they were about to be separated from their parents.

On August 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a new public health order requiring all school employees in public and private K-12 schools (excluding child care and higher education institutions) to verify vaccination status of all employees, or test on a weekly basis.

This year is the first time in 13 years that a new principal is in charge at Virginia Parks Elementary School. Jennifer Backman left in June and has been replaced by Holly Gaylor. The new Assistant Principal is Kelene Blevins.

Schools with new principals and/or assistant principals include:

• Adkison Elementary School, which has a new assistant principal in Olga Hage;

• Patricia Kay Beaver Leadership Magnet where Nate Diamantine is the new assistant principal;

• Blaker-Kinser Junior High School with Matt Hutsell serving as principal and Lucia Hernandez as assistant principal;

• Central Valley High School where Justin Tate is assistant principal;

• Don Pedro Elementary School Tonya Shuford, Assistant Principal;

• Mae Hensley Junior High School which has Manpreet Dolan as assistant principal;

• La Rosa Elementary School where Shelli LaFountain is assistant principal;

• Lucas Elementary Dual Language Academy where Angelica Mariscal is the new principal and Maria Cuevas Rabago is assistant principal;

• Sinclear Elementary where Margaret Hartung is assistant principal;

• Westport Elementary School which is led by Principal Mary Kelly;

• Walter White Elementary School where Reid Volk is now the principal.

A number of changes have occurred in the CUS District Office. Denise Wickham, Ed.D., is now superintendent after the retirement of Scott Siegel.

David Viss, Ed.D., is now assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services to replace Wickham.

Jennifer Cervantes is now director of CUSD Personnel Services.

Sharon Carter is director of Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).

Angelica Cazares is now director of Child Nutrition.

Former Carroll Fowler Principal Emily Harry is now CUSD’s coordinator of Educational Options.

Ashley Grimm is coordinator of Accountability & Assessment.

Edith Narayan is coordinator of Student Services.

Meese hugs
Carroll Fowler Elementary School student Nevaeh Amador gets a first-day-of-school hug from masked teacher Kristin Meece. Students do not have to wear masks outdoors. - photo by Jeff Benziger