QUINCY -- Jennifer Mills didn't have far to come to kick off the 2019-20 school year.
The Quincy Junior High School reading teacher walked across the hall to Morrison Theater, joining other Quincy Public Schools staff for Wednesday's annual "Opening Day" event.
"It really encourages camaraderie and a sense of belonging to the district. You see people you don't typically get to see -- they're in other buildings, teaching other grades," Mills said. "This is really a nice time to wrap up summer and welcome the new school year."
QPS welcomed 56 new teachers and about 130 new staff members for the school year which officially begins Thursday.
"I'm new in the district this year, so for me it's a good chance to get to know everyone and figure out familiar faces so no matter where I go in the district I can find someone to talk to," said Hannah Kreinberg, a part-time speech therapist at Lincoln-Douglas and Baldwin.
"It's like the first day of school, only adults," said Amy Summers, who is in her first full school year as office manager of the QPS Foundation.
Superintendent Roy Webb pledged it will be a great school year -- and one for staff to focus on having fun in the classroom, building relationships and teaching kids without new directives from the district's central office.
"This is a year of just getting back on track on all the things we're already doing," Webb said. "Our only two goals are to increase student achievement -- we've got to get better at teaching kids what they need to be taught -- and get better at our staff morale and retention."
Having the transition complete, the five new elementary schools built and everyone moved into the new buildings "is something to celebrate," Webb said.
"Nobody else in the state did what we did in a two-and-a-half year period -- transition all levels and move almost every staff member at least once, several of you twice, some of you three times, all while teaching kids and doing an extraordinary job in the classroom," he said. "You've done it all. Now it's time to concentrate on that one job of teaching kids."
Key during the transition, and to teaching kids, is the QPS leaders, and Webb highlighted more than 30 of them, asking them to share their years in education, a job description, an interesting fact about themselves and advice for the coming school year along with a photo.
"I'm especially impressed with the way our leaders have taken on the transition challenge," he said. "With 56 new people, it's good to re-introduce those leaders as resources to them."
Part pep rally and part information for staff, Opening Day "gets us ready to be back with the students," QJHS special education teacher Nona Holdiman said.
"It motivates us, energizes us for the year," Denman first-grade teacher Nicole Browning said. "The district as a whole doesn't get to get together very often, so it's kind of nice that once a year we all get back together as one big team to get ready for the year."