HAMMOND | Morton High School English teacher and department chair James Hoelzel greeted students who walked into his class, telling the group of nearly 30 teens their most important job is school.
"Make every day count," he told the juniors Wednesday, the first day of school in the Hammond district. "This is American Literature. I love this class, and I love juniors. You've grown up. You're not freshmen and sophomores. You're in control, and you can make changes."
The School City of Hammond kicked off the school year with a new, earlier start time for secondary students at 7:30 a.m.
Elementary students will start at 9:10 a.m. this year. Hammond elementary schools previously started at 8:30 a.m.
For parents who have to be at work and may have difficulty with the later start time for elementary students, the district has created an hourlong Books and Breakfast program in each elementary building starting at 8 a.m. Participating students receive academic support in addition to breakfast.
Morton interim Principal Greg Easton expected the school to welcome nearly 1,200 students in grades nine to 12 Wednesday.
"The last two years, we have really been focusing on improving the instruction," he said. "We're looking to improve our test scores. We're looking at the rigor of our courses."
Morton has seven new teachers and a new guidance counselor. Teachers will be involved in professional development each week.
The School City of Hammond had the largest student population in Northwest Indiana with more than 13,600 students.