ATLANTIC CITY — Bubbles, celebratory music and excited coworkers welcomed back the teachers and support staff of Atlantic City High School for the first of two in-service days prior to students returning Thursday.

At the front of the celebration was new Principal La’Quetta Small, who is replacing Lina Gil at the helm of the high school this year.

“It’s an exciting time,” Small said of welcoming the teachers back to the district.

In all, 303 staff members will begin the start of a new school year at Atlantic City High, including 151 who hold teaching certificates and 140 support staff members.

Small’s transition over the summer from the Pennsylvania Avenue School was a decision that brought protest and division among community members in May, but she is not letting that get in the way of doing what she came to do.

“I’m looking forward to getting to know all the staff members, moving Atlantic City forward in a positive direction,” Small said. “Change is inevitable.”

Part of that change will be a focus on chronic absenteeism at the high school, a problem she combated at the K-8 school in the previous year.

“Attendance matters. That’s a districtwide initiative,” Small said. “We have goals that we plan to meet and that we monitor, that’s what gets done. The students, if they’re not here, they can’t learn.”

At its August meeting, the Atlantic City Board of Education approved implementation of an attendance swipe-system team of 26 teachers and eight additional teachers to serve as attendance monitors to target chronic absenteeism.

In addition to the focus on attendance, Small is also ushering in a new dress code for students this year that eliminates the previously mandated uniform policy. She said it is important what students wear — the policy mandates clothing be presentable and students be well-groomed — but more important is that they are in class.

“We just want students to come to school,” Small said, adding she has gotten positive reviews of the new policy. “The students love it.”

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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