Aiken County Public Schools' annual One Team pep rally revved up teachers and staff for the first day of classes Monday, but the students brought down the house.

Jack Defeo, a student at Chukker Creek Elementary, drew spontaneous cheers and applause from the more than 3,500 educators in the audience for his performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In keeping with this year's One Team theme, “The Greatest Show,” acGATEWAY students reprised a song-and-dance number from their summer showcase production of the movie musical “The Greatest Showman” about P.T. Barnum, the founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

The Ridge Spring-Monetta Elementary School Step Team stepped up their game with a routine to “This Is Me” to a standing ovation from the audience in the near-packed Convocation Center at USC Aiken.

Later, Kennedy On Stage students joined acGATEWAY for a vocal performance of “A Million Dreams” from the film.

The district's leadership team also got into the circus spirit. Wearing a red foam nose, King Laurence, the chief officer of Administration, channeled his inner clown and juggled, and Dr. Shawn Foster, the chief officer of Operations and Student Services, put on a strong-man act.

“It takes a lot of people to put on the greatest show on Earth for one day, but here in Aiken County, we have the greatest show on Earth every single day for every single child in this community,” Foster said.

At past events, faculty and staff proudly sported T-shirts in their school colors, but Wednesday, everyone wore neutral beige shirts to symbolize One Team. More than 40 teachers, principals, transportation staff and secretaries, among others, planned the event.

“It's a true representation of the One Team,” Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford said.

Before the event began, Alford said his theme for the new school year is “Delivering the Promise.”

“We have such great news to share with the community particularly as it relates to student performance, and we have an opportunity for even further achievement,” said Alford, who is beginning his fifth year as superintendent. “Student achievement, thematic programs, school choice, upgraded facilities, safer environments: if the community expressed a concern, we've addressed it.

“We've spent four years talking to people and listening to what they wanted, listening to what they needed, telling people we're going to do these things, and now we have evidence that we've done them. And we want the community to know that: We made promises; we're delivering on them; and the kids are benefiting.”

Alford said student achievement results from last school year are particularly impressive.

“It's like soul injection when you see those numbers come back. It's like, yeah – and it's probably not the most politically correct thing to say – we ripped it this year. Our students and our teachers excelled,” Alford said.

During the program, Alford said he is planning another series of town hall meetings across the county in the fall to share the district's achievements and promises delivered.

Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.

A native of Aiken, Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.