"There's a lot of excitement," Biloxi Public Schools Superintendent Arthur McMillan says as the first week of school in Biloxi winds down. "Teachers and students are re-energized. They're ready for a fresh start. They're ready to have a great year."
And in Biloxi, McMillan said, there's anticipation about the announcement of results from state testing as well as excitement about the launch of a football season that will follow a year when Biloxi fielded a 10-3 squad, one of its best high school football teams in decades.
"There's always excitement this time of year," said McMillan, who is beginning his second year at the helm of Biloxi Public Schools and his 26th year as an educator. "We have plenty of reasons to feel good about this school year."
McMillan said he thought attendance in Biloxi would be about the same as last year, when the district ended the year with slightly more than 5,000 students, still about 18 percent below the 6,125 pre-Katrina enrollment.
First-week enrollment figures were unavailable because Biloxi this year implemented a staggered start for kindergarteners. The Kindergarten Discovery Days allowed kindergarteners to become familiar with the school in small groups and allowed time for parents to meet their child's teacher.
"We'll have a good idea about enrollment next week," McMillan said, "but the initial indications are that we're going to be close to last year's numbers."
One thing is for sure, McMillan said: the number of parents dropping off children at school this year has decreased.
The school district's Transportation Department is transporting almost 400 more students in a move to improve safety.
"Under state law you're not required to transport anyone who lives less than a mile from school," McMillan said, "but we looked at cases where we had students crossing Pass Road, Popp's Ferry Road, Caillavet Street, railroad tracks and other so-called hot spots. We wanted to reduce that, as a safety measure."
Besides reducing the number of vehicles at schools each morning and afternoon, the effort should help reduce tardiness and absenteeism.
"Safety is always our No. 1 concern when it comes to our students," McMillan said, "but the transportation issue also has classroom implications. For instance, schoolchildren who walk to school may wait until it stops raining, which means they'd be tardy, or they may not come at all if it rains for several hours. Now, with our new plan, we avoid those issues.
"We still have a few kinks to work out, and we're working on that."
McMillan joined the Biloxi School Board and other school and community leaders last week to welcome teachers and staff back for another school year.
At the time, school leaders and Mayor A.J. Holloway said the school district had done well in state testing, but administrators stopped short of announcing any official scores.
McMillan -- who joined Biloxi after leading the small Enterprise school district to the top of state evaluations -- remained tight-lipped about the test results.
"We just received word from the state that the scores would be official on Sept. 11," McMillan said. "That's so anyone who wants to appeal their results will have a chance to do so."
Does Biloxi plan an appeal? Said McMillan, with a chuckle: "No, we don't think we'll be appealing any of our scores."