UNION COUNTY, N.C. – With over 41,000 students returning to Union County Public Schools Monday, school leaders have two primary goals.

They want to cut down on the number of students suspended this year and encourage students to read more outside of the classroom.

“We’re really focused on literacy,” said Superintendent Andrew Houlihan. “Literacy, especially in our kindergarten through third-grade classrooms, is going to be a big push.”

Emily, a fifth-grader at Sandy Ridge Elementary, says she’s excited about the initiative.

“I love to read,” she said.

Sandy Ridge welcomed back 513 students fresh off of summer break Monday. Some couldn’t wait to get back to doing some of their favorite things.

“I really enjoyed the cafeteria lunches and I also really enjoy the library,” Emily said.

“I’m excited to see some of my old friends and new friends,” said another student.

It’s also principal Emily Kraftson’s first day as a Ram. She’s confidently stepping into her new role, as she encourages students to step out as leaders.

“The Leader in Me process that we’re implementing will be building leadership rule in our students,” Kraftson said. “Starting out with our staff, we had two-day training this summer.”