First day of school at Ellwood Elementary in Goleta.
Ellwood Elementary School second-grade teacher Evyn Van Homer, left, Principal Ned Schoenwetter and second-grade teacher Abby Sykes are all smiles for the first day of school. (Diana Galindo-Roybal / Goleta Union School District photo)

Students, parents and teachers alike were happy to get back to classes Wednesday when the Goleta Union School District had its first day of school for the 2023-24 year.

From children excited to see their friends and meet new teachers to improving science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics classes to facility upgrades funded by Measure M, the school district has a lot to look forward to this year.

“The biggest excitement is just to see kids back on campus,” Ellwood Elementary School Principal Ned Schoenwetter said. “We love working with our families here, and it’s such a nice community school here.”

Schoenwetter said he also was excited about the new roofing and HVAC system that was installed at the school over the summer, and the new playgrounds that will begin construction at Ellwood Elementary this fall.

“It’s always good to get to know a new group of students,” Ellwood Elementary second-grade teacher Evyn Van Homer said. “I think that it’s nice that this group is the first group that was fully in kindergarten post-COVID — so they didn’t have kindergarten on Zoom — so I’m excited to see how that might play into classroom behavior.”

First-grader Mark Tyler Mullenary said he was excited to see his new teacher and for his first year playing on the big-kid playground.

His parents, who also had dropped off Mark’s brother in fifth grade, said they were happy to see how excited he was for the first day of school — a day he had been “looking forward to for a long time.”

“As a parent, I enjoyed having him for the summer and doing a lot of fun activities, so I’m a little sad to not have the constant attention, but excited for what he’s going to be learning and excited to see him grow,” Mark’s mother, Sierra Whelan, said. “I love being able to volunteer at this school. It’s fun to come to campus and always see a smiling face.”

Aimee Sanchez, president of the Ellwood Elementary PTA, told Noozhawk that the PTA met with the school’s principal over the summer and worked together to identify goals for the school year.

“That’s the main purpose of parent-teacher association, to make the children’s experience at the school better,” Sanchez said. “Our three stated goals are to increase literacy, to improve DEI — so diversity, equity and inclusion, on campus and for our families in the community — and reduce absenteeism.”

Sanchez said she and her son, who is in fourth grade this year, are excited for the new playgrounds that will be installed this fall, and for the upcoming classroom updates and modernizations.

Another focus during the next couple of school years includes expanding the district’s STEAM programs and upgrading the STEAM labs at each school.

Rodriguez family on the first day of school at Ellwood Elementary in Goleta.
The Rodriguez family, which includes a son starting fourth grade, arrive for the first day of school at Ellwood Elementary School in Goleta. (Diana Galindo-Roybal / Goleta Union School District photo)

“I love that our PTAs are really getting behind our literacy focus in our district. It’s so important being able to be completely proficient in reading. That is a huge focus in our district,” Goleta Union School District Superintendent Diana Galindo-Roybal said. “That is our social justice work, that is our promise to our families is that children will leave our district proficient as readers. So, when they get to junior high, they can have full access and opportunity to high-level classes, but if you’re still trying to catch the kid up in reading, they don’t have the same access and opportunity that other kids have.”

Galindo-Roybal said that although the district’s enrollment still is not quite up to what it was before COVID-19, it is continuing to grow each year.

She said the district’s universal transitional kindergarten is also helping with enrollment, and this year the district has about 200 students fewer than it had pre-COVID-19.

Galindo-Roybal also said that all of the district’s nine schools have collaborative staff, and she underscored the importance of creating a work environment for both students and staff that makes them feel safe and appreciated and offers a sense of belonging — all helping with the district’s goal of creating “futures of hope.”

“Our theme is really about believing and creating futures of hope for our students,” Galindo-Roybal said. “So, how do we believe in our capacity as educators to believe in the students’ capacity to learn and achieve and believing in each other that we can accomplish that.”