The staff parking lot at Eastern Hills Middle School overflowed Monday, and a cheery, palpable buzz resounded in the cafeteria during the first day of a new school year.

“It’s gone very smoothly,” Principal Jamie Blassingame said. “It was a real team effort.”

Along with retired teachers and Killeen Independent School District personnel, all current teachers stood at “duty stations” for students who needed any help, she said. A Harker Heights police officer roved the hallways to ensure safety.

“It was covered wall to wall to welcome kids in,” Blassingame said.

Eighth-grade football, basketball and track athlete Rhandy Hughes holds mixed feelings about returning to school.

“You don’t have to worry about in the summer if you’re going to pass this year,” he said. “(In school), you get to see your friends. Everyone’s walking in their new school clothes.”

Rhandy’s ready to attack this year.

He rotates between five positions on the Panthers’ eighth-grade football team, which will defend its 2012-2013 seventh grade district title.

“We need everyone there, we need to be 100 percent, and never underestimate an opponent,” Rhandy said. “We got the big target on our backs.”

He said he’s also ready to celebrate three years of accomplishments at the winter ball, and wants to join the Builders Club, which volunteers at community events.

Unlike Rhandy, sixth-grade math teacher Cantresa Gillespie is an Eastern Hills newcomer, but brings six years of experience teaching in Temple and Germany. She said she attended five Killeen ISD teacher strategy sessions this summer, and learned creative teaching methods for tech-savvy kids.

Through teaching, Gillespie tries to convey the importance of collaboration.

“They have to learn to work with one another,” she said. “Not only in Killeen, but in the world, it’s not just a ‘me’ mentality. It’s all team-oriented.”

Middle school challenges adolescents academically and socially.

“They’re just really coming into self-awareness and verging into adulthood,” Gillespie said. “But because we have such awesome teachers here, we’re able to help out with it.”

Eighth-grader Myra McGee said she’s ready to progress to high school and college, but isn’t done enjoying middle school. She said she plans to try out for basketball, volleyball and track this year.

“With track, my mom forced me, but it’s all good,” Myra said. She is excited to be back at Eastern Hills after spending seventh grade at Union Grove Middle School. “I’m looking forward to science, new experiments. It’s my first year taking algebra, so I’m kind of psyched about that.”

As of Aug. 23, 767 students enrolled at Eastern Hills, and will be taught by more than 50 teachers, Blassingame said. This year, the largest ever Eastern Hills eighth-grade class is nearly 270 students.

Contact Brian Bradley at or (254) 501-7567

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