Students at Mt. Healthy Elementary were greeted by a new look and a new leader when they arrived for their first day of school.
As buses pulled up to the school Monday morning, Amy Wetherald climbed up the stairs and introduced herself to dozens of new and anxious faces.
“I’m your new principal,” she told them, some responding with cheers and greetings.
An estimated 11,500 students and 550 teachers headed back to class Monday in Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
Wetherald spent her first day welcoming students to the school and finding out what Mt. Healthy looks like in action.
Gina Pleak, principal of Clifty Creek Elementary, and Jay Payne, principal of L. Frances Smith Elementary, also were navigating their first day of school in a new building. Three more educators — Cathy Jackson, Cory Irwin and Kaity Day — tackled their first days as assistant principals at Southside Elementary, Central Middle School and L.C. Schmitt Elementary School respectively.
Wetherald said Mt. Healthy has a different feeling than she’s used to — she transferred from the largest elementary school in BCSC to one of the smallest.
She was most recently an assistant principal at Southside Elementary, which serves almost 950 students compared with Mt. Healthy’s 388.
“There’s just more of an opportunity here to become part of the existing close-knit community,” she said.
She has already heard so much about the community and culture of ownership.
Her husband, Todd Wetherald, attended the school himself and still proudly tells everyone he is a Mt. Healthy alumni. The family has settled down in the Mt. Healthy district and made a home for themselves in southwestern Bartholomew County.
Superintendent John Quick described Mt. Healthy as one of the most stable schools in the district, where the families get to know each other and look out for each other.
“She’s just a good fit,” he said.
Often, many generations of family have attended the school.
That was the case for Kerigan and Erica Greathouse, who stood outside the school to say their goodbyes Monday morning.
Erica Greathouse attended Mt. Healthy years ago, and her daughter Kerigan is entering fifth grade this year. They both said they like Mt. Healthy because of its small size.
“I’m excited about seeing my friends,” Kerigan said. “I like Mt. Healthy because it’s where I’ve always gone.”
Amy Wetherald used the same word to describe her start-of-school feelings.
“I’m excited; that’s really the main word I’d use to describe this year,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to what’s to come.”
She hopes to get to know each student by name, which was not possible at a school the size of Southside — or in her previous assignments as English teacher at Columbus East and Columbus North high schools and counselor at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School.
Wetherald said she will do that by delivering birthday cards to each student to associate names with faces, and she will invite students to the front office to help with morning announcements.
She had a chance to get to know some staff this summer at training and professional development opportunities, and she said they have been open and welcoming.
They also have been flexible as crews finished up a $2 million renovation that revamped classrooms, restrooms and the cafeteria, Wetherald said.
Parents dropping off their children in the front lobby Monday commented on the new colors and new floors.
Rita Dettmer, who retired last year after 33 years of teaching at Mt. Healthy, could not stay away for long.
She helped herd the students off the bus and through the school doors as a volunteer, and she said Wetherald has a bright future in front of her at Mt. Healthy.
“I think it will be great; she will be great,” Dettmer said. “Everything is so fresh and so new.”