When Kerry Lane reports to Burleigh Manor Middle School today, it will signal the beginning of a hectic week for her and other teachers as they prepare for their students' arrivals.
Howard County public schools' 6,770 teachers and staff members return a week before the first day of school for training, meetings and other tasks, including setting up their classrooms.
"It's endless," said Lane, who teaches sixth- and eighth-grade reading. "You just make sure you're ready to go and your materials are ready to go and your classroom is ready. Once you have those things in place, everything else falls into place."
School officials are projecting 47,719 students for the 2004-2005 academic year. No new school will open this year, after the county built 24 schools in the past 14 years. Next year, the county will open its 12th high school, Marriott's Ridge, across from Mount View Middle in Marriottsville.
Middle and high school students will have to attend school for six hours and 45 minutes, 15 minutes more than last year.
The school board voted this year to extend the middle and high school day. An analysis by The Sun last year found that Howard County had routinely fallen short of the 1,170 instructional hours required at the high school level.
While the middle schools exceeded the state's required 1,080 hours of instructional time, school officials felt the extra time would benefit the pupils.
"We know that the standards are getting stiffer, the stakes are getting higher, especially with the high school assessments," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "So we know that the more instruction we could have before our students need to take these high school assessments, the better prepared they will be."
All high schools will begin at 7:25 a.m. and end at 2:10 p.m. Middle schools will start as early as 7:30 a.m. (Patuxent Valley) and end as late as 3:25 p.m. (Murray Hill). Also starting next week, the last batch of high schools - River Hill, Long Reach and Centennial - will operate under a seven-period schedule with an alternating A-day/B-day, completing the phase-in of a uniform system that began two years ago, said Roger L. Plunkett, assistant superintendent for school administration.
"At one point in Howard County we had 10 high schools but five different schedules," he said.
Under the seven-period schedule, schools have the flexibility to group class periods for additional instruction time, Plunkett said.
"We received nothing but glowing comments from students and faculty who have made the change," he said.
Last week, there was a flurry of activities at new-teacher orientation at Wilde Lake High School, where about 264 recent hires met administrators, attended workshops and took in new information.
Heather Romich will teach fourth grade at Cradlerock School - her first teaching position.
"I dream of it every night - my classroom, my students," she said. "I picture what my kids will be like."