"We're so pleased to see your bright, shiny faces -- including those of the adults," Judith Schwartz said over the intercom at Lutherville Elementary School about 9:15 yesterday morning.
Not long before, the principal of Baltimore County's newest school greeted parents, students, teachers and visitors in the halls of the renovated building, which closed 10 years ago because of declining enrollment. And she was certainly one of those smiling. Opening the school was a little "like I was going on stage," she said. "I'm feeling pretty good now."
There were grand openings all over the county as almost 96,000 students made their way to the first day of classes in 149 schools.
Down York Road at the new Carver Center for Arts and Technology, faculty and staff members actually applauded when the first buses arrived shortly after 7 a.m., Principal Mary Cary said. And most people were still smiling at lunchtime, when the students in one of the county's seven new magnet programs crowded into the lobby for lunch.
Carver's cafeteria isn't finished, so for the next few weeks students will eat in the lobby and on the "terrace," also known as the front steps. Some classrooms don't have doorknobs, and at least one bus from the west side was late when the driver failed to show up. And school security was breached by a squirrel that had to be chased from the premises.
Otherwise, said Ms. Cary, the former Central School of Technology, which now specializes in arts and technology, opened to 450 new ninth- and 10th-graders with few problems.
Elsewhere around the county, officials said opening day went smoothly. There were the usual mishaps: buses that forgot to stop, schedules that didn't work out, classrooms that were crowded and the usual tears from young students not quite ready for school.
But on the whole, "it looks really good," said Myra Treiber, school system spokeswoman. Superintendent Stuart Berger, who hit at least 10 schools on a whirlwind tour, called it "a good day" during a late-afternoon stop at Carver.
It was certainly a good day for Tom DeGraziano, coordinator of the new magnet program in mathematics, science and research at Woodlawn High School. "It's all going great," he said as the school day waned. "This is my baby. This is my dream."
The ninth-grade magnet students account for 72 of Woodlawn's 1,600 students. Half are female, half are members of minority groups, and all had high scores on a test of critical thinking.
"The people are friendly," said Jenny Crabb, 14, of Catonsville, as she finished her first day at Woodlawn. "The teachers seem in control, and they know what they're doing."
Jenny is taking biology, chemistry and scientific research and experimentation -- all at once -- along with Algebra 2 and geometry, English, social studies and a foreign language.
It's a lot of work, "but that's what I wanted," she said.
School officials estimate this year's enrollment at 95,800, about 2,600 more than last year. Though the 3,000 students enrolled in the seven new magnet programs are getting a lot of attention, they are not the only innovations as Dr. Berger's second year at the helm begins.
There are nearly 500 new teachers, new administrators, new report cards, new scheduling in some schools and a new way of running things called site-based management, which gives principals more authority over their schools.
Some teachers complained about new policies and programs, especially changes in middle school management and the controversial placement of children with disabilities in DTC neighborhood schools. Some said the uneasiness of last spring has not subsided and will affect teaching.
But administrators praised their teachers, many of whom gave up some of the last days of their summer vacation to prepare for the school year.
Ken Burch, principal at Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, another new magnet program, said his teachers were the main reason the program opened so smoothly there.
"I couldn't have asked for a better day. I really attribute that to the four days the teachers came in and worked last week. Many of the [anticipated] problems were resolved by the teachers," he said.
At Lutherville Elementary, Ms. Schwartz also had high praise for the new crew.
"They are really just a unique group," she said. "I have not had the unique experience of being somewhere where everyone [who is there] wants to be there."