By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

The red carpet was paper and the "champagne" wasn't, but the excitement, the congratulations and the anticipation for a great school year were all real.

At Venable Village Elementary School at Fort Hood and across the Killeen Independent School District, schools welcomed back teachers and other campus staff Friday for the 2010-11 school year, which begins for students Aug. 23.

When teachers returned to school, they found the school stage transformed to a Hollywood stage and a table filled with miniature Academy Award statues for each staff member.

As Principal Cynthia Potvin handed out awards to her staff members, who were dressed in formal attire, her cell phone rang. She answered the phone, feigned surprise and said the school would be thrilled to host a cameo appearance.

With lights dimmed and music blaring, top Killeen ISD administrators stepped across the front of the cafeteria one at a time dressed as Hollywood stars and Potvin read off their movie accomplishments.

Sharon Davis, director for elementary curriculum, began the parade of stars dressed as Marilyn Monroe with dark glasses and a scarf on her head.

Eight more school district administrators stepped across the stage as Dana Carvey, Tina Turner, Jackie Onassis Kennedy, Julia Child, Madonna, Goldie Hawn, Vince Vaughn and Robert De Niro. Later in the morning, Raquel Welch and Tyra Banks made appearances.

Venable Village earned an exemplary rating in the Texas accountability system for the second year in a row and the third time overall, prompting the celebration.

Potvin began the elaborate back-to-school event when she wrote a welcome-back letter to her staff this summer, requesting her "all-star studded" staff members to wear formal attire.

Campus administrators dressed up the cafeteria and assembled a walk of fame containing pictures of each school staff member.

Fort Hood culinary arts team provided an Academy Award-themed cake free of charge and the school district central administrators agreed to make cameo appearances.

Potvin said she wanted to reward her hard-working teachers, aides and other staff members and encourage them to continue to work hard to ensure continued academic success.

In addition, she said her school welcomed 16 new staff members and wanted to give them a memorable beginning.

"They deserve a lot more than an Academy Award," Potvin said. "This is a special group. We're celebrating their great achievements and their great achievements to come."

Third-grade teacher Debbie Ruhl, dressed formally and hamming it up for the crowd, said later the extra gesture of support was a meaningful one.

"I think it's awesome to start with a gala like this," Ruhl said. "It gets morale going in the right direction. We had no idea what was going to happen, just that we were to dress like the Academy Awards.

"This makes it fun, not as stressful to come back (from summer break)," the teacher said.

"We hope they know they are appreciated," said campus instructional specialist Traci Kotalik, who helped with the preparation for the event. "We want to keep the momentum going. They are stars."

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