Approximately 16,500 students will return to classrooms Monday, Aug. 21, at Hilliard's 14 elementary schools, two sixth-grade buildings, three middle schools, three high schools, one preschool and the McVey Innovative Learning Center.

"We are excited to get our students back in the classroom, Superintendent John Marsch-hausen said. " Our goal is simple: to inspire students to make a difference every day as they pursue excellence in all they do."

The district prepares for the start of each school year with several traditions, including convocation for administrators and staff members and a first-time bus-rider program for students and parents.

Additionally, many buildings, especially elementary schools, have scheduled site-specific activities, such as meet-the-teacher events, said Stacie Raterman, a spokeswoman for the district.

Convocation will be at 8 a.m. Friday, Aug. 18, at Hilliard Darby High School.

The event is not open to the public, Raterman said.

"It's the time we begin our relentless pursuit of becoming better each day," she said.

More than 1,500 staff members attend convocation each year.

Speakers are Marschhausen and three alumni who are invited to speak about how a Hilliard staff member inspired them to be "ready for tomorrow," Raterman said. The district's mission statement is, "Hilliard City Schools will ensure that every student is ready for tomorrow."

On Aug. 12, the district hosted its annual first-rider program at Heritage Middle School.

The program, in its fourth year, is designed to help reduce first-day jitters for new bus riders, Raterman said.

It provides children, especially kindergartners, the opportunity to board and ride buses at the event.

Jen Sommers and her family, including daughter, Addie, who will ride a bus regularly for the first time to Tharp Sixth Grade School were among those attending the event.

Her parents previously drove her to elementary school.

"She will have friends to ride with, so we think it will be a smooth transition," Sommers said.

Cindy Leibrock, a driver and on-board instructor for 27 years, was among the transportation staff members at the event.

"We take the (students) around and tour different size buses," she said. "It's all about teaching safety and being comfortable on the buses, both parents and kids."

Finally, several buildings have received a face-lift during the summer, and new administrators will greet students at some schools.

The district completed repaving projects at Darby and Davidson high schools, Scioto Darby Elementary School and the McVey Innovative Learning Center, to name a few, roof restorations at Davidson and Heritage and Weaver middle schools and a roof replacement at Darby.

New principals include:

•At Ridgewood Elementary School, Kevin Buchman succeeds Tara Grove, who accepted a job as principal at a school in Indiana. Last year, Buchman was principal at Station Sixth Grade School.

•At Washington Elementary School, Samantha Althouse succeeds Jennifer Lowery. Althouse was an assistant principal at Weaver Middle School last year; Lowery now is the district's director of student support services.

•At Station Sixth Grade School, Lauren Schmidt succeeds Buchman as principal. Last year, Schmidt was an assistant principal at Davidson.

•At Hilliard Preschool, Brian Hart succeeds Annette Andres, who retired.

•New assistant principals include Katherine Hueter (Weaver), Matthew Anderson (Davidson) and Joel Assenheimer (Davidson). Jeremey Scally, an assistant principal last year at Davidson, now is an instructional coach.