HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Summer break is over, and school is in session for Huntsville City School students. Teachers and faculty welcomed back about 23,000 students across the district Tuesday morning, eager to get this school year started.

“You hear about the ‘Great Resignation’…but now it’s a ‘Great Re-engagement,'” stated Huntsville City Schools (HCS) Superintendent Christie Finley.

District leaders say this year, they’re focused on keeping the momentum going from last year.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, Madison County is currently showing high rates for COVID-19 transmission. Right now, Superintendent Finley says there isn’t a mask mandate in place.

“We stopped the masking-procedure at the end of February last year, so we’re still mask-optional. That doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to look at not just COVID, but other things like the flu and other viral things that can happen every day in our schools,” said Finley. 

Kristen Jackson, a first-grade teacher at Jones Valley Elementary, has been teaching with HCS for 14 years. She says she feels fortunate to be in the school building and able to engage with her students face-to-face.

“Every year, it’s about the relationships – the relationships with your students and the relationships with the families here at school. I think, probably, that’s going to be my #1 thing in my classroom but it’s always the #1 thing here at Jones Valley – building a very strong relationship with a family,” Jackson told News 19.

While teachers have been engaged in professional development and preparing their classrooms, Superintendent Finley says they’ve also been taking part in training related to school safety protocols.

“This summer we had an emergency response exercise to look at what reunification looks like and how that works in the event of an emergency. Making sure our teachers understand that process and reviewing those safety procedures we have in place is something we continuously do and will continue to do,” said Finley.