Life's a class act on opening day

School: About 350,000 children in the Baltimore area put aside summer and return to the job of getting educated.

August 31, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Sixth-grader Elizabeth Heinrich was late to her first day of classes at Golden Ring Middle School in Baltimore County yesterday, but it wasn't her fault. Really.

"The bus driver looked right at us but he didn't stop," said Elizabeth, 12, trying to explain her tardiness to lobby monitor Phyllis J. Unrue on a day when she and hundreds of thousands of other Baltimore-area students were starting the academic year.

Unrue -- who says she's sympathetic to first-day jitters -- soothed the girl's nerves with reassurances instead of detention.

"I'll hold off a green slip until Wednesday," she said.

Bleary-eyed and tongue-tied, but sporting perky hairdos and trendy clothes, students in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties faced the same sort of switch -- from summer play to classwork -- yesterday.

Schools in Harford County open Thursday.

In all, students in 16 of Maryland's 24 school systems came back to class yesterday, including about 350,000 in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

School administrators, principals and teachers, most of whom spent the summer preparing for school by purchasing textbooks and preparing curricula to match, celebrated their way yesterday, gathering for morning coffee klatches and dressing in school colors.

In Baltimore County, Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione kicked off his final year at the school system's helm with a tour of a place important to him personally and professionally -- Golden Ring in Rosedale.

"That's my old algebra room," he said, pointing out a classroom on the school's second floor he visited as a student.

Marchione attended middle and high school at Golden Ring and started his career there 44 years ago as a math teacher.

He will retire in June.

Later, Marchione met with state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger at Halstead Academy in Towson, which has seen improved math and reading scores recently thanks to community cooperation and county and state funding.

Grasmick applauded Baltimore County officials, including Ruppersberger and Marchione, and local residents for working together.

"Really, education has to be a priority for the entire community, and recognizing and providing the kind of before- and after-school care [children] require is a must," she said.

In the city, opening day went smoothly, school officials said, although some principals reported low attendance.

Officials did not have a final count yesterday, but they said 105,800 students are expected to be in attendance by the middle of September after students have trickled back to school.

City students found new mathematics textbooks and many new faces in the classroom and the main office. The system hired 29 new principals this year, the second year of a clean sweep through schoolhouse leadership.

Keeping track of kids

City schools also were trying out a new student-tracking system that, when the kinks are worked out, is expected to make the schools work more efficiently.

From a computer terminal, a principal will be able to call up a student's entire school history, and school administrators will be able to more easily track attendance and grades system-wide.

For the pupils, the focus was on the classroom.

When 8-year-old Candace Edwards walked out of Madison Square Elementary School with her father yesterday, she said, "I had fun. I didn't get any hard work."

What she is hoping for in her third-grade year, she said, "is a good report card."

In Anne Arundel County, Annapolis Elementary School Principal Becky Schou spent much of her morning concerned that all those children might raise the temperature inside her 103-year-old schoolhouse to unbearable stuffiness.

However, a short time after she asked the school's custodian to crank up the air conditioning, parents in the gym complained that the system's electric hum was drowning out teachers trying to explain the year's curriculum and school events.

"Can you turn it off in there?" said Schou to the custodian via a hand-held radio. "I'm sure I am driving that poor man crazy today," she said with a sigh.

No tears, no snags

In Carroll County, Cranberry Station Elementary School Principal Judith Walker worried that a fire or smoke alarm in her new school would go off accidentally, and pupils and teachers wouldn't be able to find their way around.

In the end, Walker pulled off a near-perfect day. "There were no tears today, and nobody got lost," she said. "No snags."

Howard County opened two new schools yesterday -- Lime Kiln Middle School, in Fulton, and Ellicott Mills at Bonnie Branch Middle, in Ellicott City.

Technically, Ellicott Mills is not a new school; it is occupying the new Bonnie Branch building for two years while the 60-year-old Ellicott Mills Middle School is demolished and rebuilt.

"The first couple of days, everybody was like, `Wow,' even though it wasn't finished," said foreign language teacher Stacie Gado of the new school.

Staff writers Kris Antonelli, Liz Bowie, David L. Greene and Erika D. Peterman contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 8/31/99

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