About 74,000 students and 5,000 teachers return to classes in Anne Arundel

Welcome back to cool

August 30, 2006|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,Sun reporter

Wearing a tank top, jeans and flip-flops, Gi Pak was not prepared for the first day of classes at Arundel High School.

The 16-year-old junior was accustomed to the sauna-like conditions in the building during hot, humid weather. But yesterday in the school's cafeteria, she covered her arms with her hands as she shivered.

After years of talk about the school's finally getting air conditioning, and 18 months of work, she said, "I didn't believe them when they said we were going to have it."

But, a $10 million system was added to the school months ahead of schedule, making it the last of Anne Arundel County's schools to get air conditioning, said Alex Szachnowicz, the school system's director of facilities.

In addition to cooler classrooms, the nearly 74,000 students and nearly 5,000 teachers in Anne Arundel County were greeted with a number of other changes on the first few days of school, including one new building, new dress codes and new academic programs - all under new leadership.

Kevin M. Maxwell, who took over as superintendent on July 1, is touring 35 schools this week. During his stops at eight schools on Monday, he was joined by members of his executive staff, County Executive Janet S. Owens and the presidents of the school board, teachers' union and PTSA. The entourage talked with school administrators and popped into classrooms to offer encouragement.

"Were you all nervous?" Owens asked a roomful of sixth-graders, to which they immediately answered with a chorus of "yes."

Maxwell's list of schools to visit includes the five middle schools on the state watch list for not making "adequate yearly progress" on standardized tests.

Maxwell has said that he and his staff will take a yearlong look at the county's 21 middle schools, including their block scheduling, in an effort to improve student achievement.

The superintendent changed his schedule to include a visit Monday to Old Mill Middle School North after the death Aug. 21 of a student. Tawn Anderson, 12, was found in the basement of his home with a fatal gunshot wound to the upper body. Police have not yet determined whether the shooting was a suicide or an accident. Anderson was a seventh-grader at the school last year, and his sister is a sixth-grader this year, school officials said,

A crisis team, including a psychologist and counselors, was to be on hand for the first few days of school to talk with students and teachers. Principal Sean McElhaney also met with teachers at the start of the week to talk about recognizing the signs of grief.

Sixth- and ninth-graders had their buildings all to themselves on Monday, marking the return of staggered starts after a four-year hiatus. Former superintendent Eric J. Smith had ended the practice of having the two grades get a one-day head start to get accustomed to their new buildings, saying it wasted an instructional day, but Nancy Mann, former interim superintendent, reinstated the practice for this year.

"It's a great opportunity for ninth-graders to get their feet on the ground and get comfortable," said George Arlotto, the county's director of high schools.

On Monday at some high schools, upperclassmen led tours for the newcomers. Broadneck High School held a scavenger hunt for freshmen during which they had to locate their lockers and guidance counselors.

Since the board of education decided in spring 2005 to allow schools to decide whether to require uniforms, Tyler Heights Elementary and Meade Middle schools have become the first in the county to adopt them.

At Tyler Heights in Annapolis, pupils dressed in Navy tops and khaki bottoms formed neat lines as they headed to the cafeteria for lunch.

Shakira Minor, 10, admitted that she had worried over the summer that the uniforms would be ugly, but by Monday, she had changed her mind.

"Everyone's wearing it now, so it's cool," she said.

During lunchtime, principal Ernestine McKnight told fifth-graders that they would no longer be able to purchase snacks at school, in accordance with the county's new nutrition policy. The only treat that will be sold during lunchtime at the school this year is ice cream. Knight told the students that instead of buying candy for the school's teachers as she normally does, she brought in fruit, yogurt and granola.

"We're really trying to all get healthier with our eating," she said.

The county added full-day kindergarten at 15 schools as it heads toward the fall 2007 state deadline to provide it for all students. That brings the total to 59 schools. Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes begin after Labor Day.

Among other late starters, the new $33 million Marley Middle School opens to students today. One of the county's two charter schools, the KIPP Harbor Academy in Edgewater, opened Monday. The other, Chesapeake Science Point Charter School in Hanover, participated in the staggered start.

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