Schools prepare for year of firsts Principals emphasize details in opening 2 new elementaries

'Start with a blank slate'

August 09, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

One day in June, Deborah Drown walked into North Laurel's freshly minted Gorman Crossing Elementary School and was struck immediately by the emptiness.

"It was sort of an overwhelming feeling," said Drown, the new school's principal. "There was nothing in here. Nothing."

Even to a veteran administrator like Drown, the task of preparing a brand-new school for its fall debut can be formidable. Making the opening more difficult is that the street Gorman Crossing occupies -- Winter Sun Road -- has yet to appear on some Howard County maps. Also, the school's only neighbor on the open patch of land is Murray Hill Middle School, which opened last fall.

Gorman Crossing is one of two schools opening in the county this year and among 22 that have opened in the last 11 years, according to the school system's public information office. Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School near Clarksville also is opening its doors Aug. 24. Next year, the county will open two middle schools: Bonnie Branch, which will be next to Ilchester Elementary School in Ellicott City, and Lime Kiln in Fulton.

For Drown, who was principal at Running Brook Elementary School in Columbia last year, the difference between opening a new school and reopening an established one is in the details: Instead of revising the handbook, you're writing one. Instead of students and teachers taking their places out of habit on the first day of school, someone has to decide where they should go.

"Something that simple has to be thought out," Drown said. "It's the little things you have to worry about."

And plenty of big things. Last week, a truck pulled up bearing almost 700 student desks and 800 chairs. On its heels came a tractor-trailer filled with Apple computers. Then another truck arrived with paper goods.

"That was quite a day," Drown said.

Help from parents

The school, which can hold 550 pupils but will open with 380, will draw students from Laurel Woods and Forest Ridge elementaries. Drown credits their parents with helping to smooth the opening process. Among other things, parent volunteers have unpacked computers, checked purchase orders, counted supplies and assembled the tiny xylophones in the school's music room.

The PTA also helped coordinate the student vote for the mascot -- a backpack-carrying alligator with a baseball cap -- that will be named in the fall. To help the children make the transition into a new school, Drown met with each grade last school year and plans to organize a bus ride this month through the neighborhood to pass out lollipops and meet parents and students.

"Some of them [were] kind of apprehensive," Drown said. "Now that the summer's here, the children are just real, real excited."

Newly decorated

Inside, the smell of fresh paint and new furniture permeates the ++ building. Globes wrapped in plastic bags and recently unpacked computers are aligned neatly on desks flanked by small blue seats. The pink and blue tile on the cafeteria floor -- selected by a parent "color committee" -- still looks clean.

"It doesn't get any better," said fifth-grade teacher Nancy Cornelius as she organized her classroom. "If you can, imagine being able to start with a blank slate and personalize it. It's invigorating."

Several miles away in Clarksville, Susan Webster -- Drown's graduate-school classmate at the Johns Hopkins University -- is overseeing a similar mountain of last-minute details at Triadelphia Ridge. Webster spent a recent day typing a community newsletter while her sister helped stuff envelopes. Teachers are drafting a code of conduct, telephones are being hooked up and team leaders are reviewing schedules.

Webster, who was an administrator at Bryant Woods Elementary School in Columbia for six years, said she is anxious to meet her new students. Triadelphia Ridge will open almost at capacity, with 480 children in grades one to five and 70 kindergarten students.

Children are 'mystery'

"Usually, I know the kids," she said. "This time for us, the mystery is the children. I'm really anxious to fill in all those questions I have in my mind about who those children really are."

Even with the additional work that comes with their mission, Drown and Webster said they are looking forward to starting from scratch.

"One of the most fun parts is being able to build new traditions," Drown said. "I started teaching at Dasher Green [Elementary] when it was only 1 year [old]. I just remember that being a lot of fun and just a unique opportunity."

Webster agreed.

"It's been great to have a colleague that I could go through this with," Webster said of Drown. "We've been given a task of opening a new school; that's our job. It's a real privilege."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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