Students in the Conway School District retired their backpacks, lunch boxes and school supplies Tuesday, as the final bell signaled the end of the school year.

For kindergartners already dreaming of first-grade to juniors who have been counting down for weeks, it is summer vacation.

In reflection of the 2008-09 school year, teachers, administrators and students across Conway reported many successes.

"It has been a very successful year because we have lots of good things happening for our kids," said superintendent Greg Murry. "I was really pleased with the performance of our kids and the work our teachers and staff have done."

One of the more recent accomplishments Murry noted was the graduation ceremony for the class of 2009.

"We had a significant number of National Merit Finalists in this year's class, our scores continue to climb and our activity programs still continue to be very strong," Murry said.

There were also many positive classroom experiences this year, according to Kathy Powers, who teaches literacy at Simon Intermediate School.

"The school year went great and I am so proud of how hard my students worked and how much they learned," Powers said. "High points of the year included our poetry reading for parents, having a debate over a four-day school week and several students having their poetry published in a national poetry anthology."

On the elementary level, fourth-grade teacher Stephanie Defoor said 2008-09 has been her best year yet at Florence Mattison Elementary School.

"My students were a hard-working group and we made a lot of strides this year," Defoor said. "In my class we are a family and I instill this in them from day one. Even on the last day of school, the students asked if we were going to have a family meeting and give group hugs. I'm very proud of all of them and will miss them dearly."

Although students in the Conway School District were enjoying classroom parties and end-of-year celebrations Tuesday, they still said they were thankful for the things they have learned.

Nicholas Rodriguez, a second-grader at Ida Burns Elementary School, said the best thing about Tiffany Dunlap's class was math.

"I really liked learning about times because we were learning third-grade stuff and we are going to be really good at that when we're in third-grade," Rodriguez said.

Abby Oudekerk, also a second-grader in Dunlap's class, said her favorite part of the school year was getting out of the classroom.

"I really liked the field trips," Oudekerk said. "We went to the Heifer Ranch and we went swimming and we got to go to Playworld for an AR (Accelerated Reading) party."

Second-grader Ali Cargile admitted she is a bit nervous knowing the third-grade is just a few months away, but she plans to practice her reading over the summer to get ready.

And Cargile isn't the only one already planning for the fall.

After what Defoor described as much-needed rest and recuperation, the fourth-grade teacher said she will be spending her summer thinking of new ideas for the classroom.

"I will be attending a variety of workshops to enhance my knowledge of concepts for the fourth-grade," Defoor said.

Powers said she, too, will spend her summer in workshops, sharing ideas with other teachers and getting excited about the upcoming year.

The summertime will not slow things much for employees at the administrative level, either. Murry said officials are now faced with the task of quickly spending about $7.4 million in one-time stimulus funds, which will include several small construction and renovation projects.

Stimulus funds designated to help at-risk students will be put into use in two weeks, according to Murry. This will begin an elementary summer program to boost performance levels of students who scored basic or below on the Benchmark exam.

"We are trying to get the details ironed so we can get it going and, for the sake of the kids, we certainly want it to be as successful as possible," Murry said.

(Staff writer Jessica Bauer can be reached by e-mail at jessica.bauer@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)