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'Today we became a school'

Farmington High School principal Ben Kusch gives directions to students on the first day of school Tuesday. Kusch said things went smoothly for the most part on the first day at the new school. Michelle Leonard/Independent1 / 2
Students descend the main staircase at Farmington High School on the first day of school.2 / 2

Show and tell isn't just for grade school kids this week. Just ask Farmington High School principal Ben Kusch -- he's more than ready to show off his new building these days.

Tuesday afternoon, Kusch could be found in the hallways of the new Farmington High School, finally open after nearly two years of construction. His post was just inside the main entrance doors that face the south, right at the top of the stairs. From there, he could help students find their next classroom, greet his staff and keep an eye on much of the activity going on in District 192's newest building.

The first day of school. It's something students might have mixed emotions on, but Kusch was enthusiastic about this year's first day.

"Up until today, we were really just bricks and mortar," he said. "Today we became a school."

He's more than happy to show off the new building, and like anyone with something new, he's trying to keep it looking nice and new for as long as possible. Walking through the halls, he scanned the floors, looking for random pieces of paper, dropped pens and scraps of construction tape. When he spotted something, he picked it up and carried it along until he came across a wastepaper basket.

Granted, there are still a few kinks to work out. Some tables and chairs for the lunchroom are still on back order and the lunch schedules may have to be adjusted to even out the number of students in each lunch period. The air handlers were working, but it was still a little stuffy in the school. A few boxes are still sitting in the main office, waiting to be unpacked. And some desks had to be moved to new locations over the first night. Those are little things, he said.

"We're tweaking," Kusch said. "There's a lot of tweaking right now."

But it's not all bad. The reason those desks had to be moved around was that a few more were needed in the classrooms where new students -- and several joined the high school Tuesday morning -- are being welcomed to Farmington schools. Kusch said there have been several new students enrolled at the high school in just the last week.

Tuesday afternoon was a little too soon to tell how the traffic flow would be after school, but for the most part, reports Kusch heard about the morning traffic sounded like things went relatively well, although he did hear there was some congestion on Flagstaff Avenue before school. Though he and other district administrators wanted to be able to project how the after-school traffic would be, it was hard to do so without seeing it first. But that, too, will be something that is addressed as necessary, he said.

For the most part, Kusch said students seemed to know their way around the building. Between orientations, registration, open houses, sports practices and tours, most students had been out to the building over the summer. Still, Kusch had to explain the classroom numbering system or point out a hallway once in a while.

"I think we've headed any real difficulties off at the pass," he said.

An after-school debriefing session was planned for staff, he added. Not that it was a big deal -- just an opportunity for teachers and other staff to talk about what did and did not work in their hallways, classrooms and so on. There are, after all, a lot of things that Kusch cannot see from the hallways or his office -- things that the teaching staff deal with on a daily basis.

With so much that goes into successfully opening a new school, it's hard to know how things are going to go ahead of time. By Tuesday afternoon, though, Kusch was pretty pleased with the new school's first day.

"You can plan and plan and plan, and you're pretty sure you know how everything works," he said, "but you never really know until 1,700-odd students are here.

"The first day has been great. Just great."