Chances are, students and parents caught a glimpse of a high-ranking school system employee or elected official Monday in a tradition that aims to have every one of Howard County's 72 schools visited on the first day.
"We really like to take out the elected officials and let them be a part of the excitement that we feel on the first day," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "It is a wonderful, inspiring time to visit the schools."
Howard County Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and school board Chairman Frank Aquino were among the officials visiting schools, including Hammond Elementary in Laurel. Christina Armstrong, a music teacher and PTA president at the school, stood amid a cluster of African drums looking for the proper one to play for them. She grabbed an hourglass-shaped drum, positioned it under her arm and rhythmically gave it a series of bops with her right hand.
"Good morning," she said as she matched each syllable to each hand tap. "This is why they call it the African talking drum."
Their laughter was interrupted when they saw students quietly lined up outside Armstrong's music room, ready for their first music class.
"They are ready with their recorders and music," Armstrong said referring to the students. "Rock on! Welcome to the new school year."
Cousin and Aquino spent Monday visiting five schools. This year, the school system welcomed 49,138 students - an increase of 250 - and 4,563 teachers, which included 200 new hires.
"The enthusiasm shown today, we hope to continue throughout the year," Cousin said later as he left for his fifth school, Gorman Crossing Elementary in Laurel. "Our expectation is that every day will be like the opening day, where kids and staff are enthusiastic and engaged."
"They are getting off to a very smooth start," Aquino said. "As a parent, it is amazing that after a few minutes everyone is on task."
The first day of school in the entire school system went smoothly, according to Caplan.
"Everything went extremely well," Caplan said. "It was a really quiet day. There was nothing out of the ordinary. The last few years have been great."
The first-day visit is an opportunity for Cousin to meet with staff and students.
"Your MSA scores are impressive," Cousin said to Hammond Elementary's principal, Judy Bland, as they walked through the halls of the school.
"They better be," Bland said with a laugh. "You have to have those high expectations. High expectations are the way every student can learn."
Bland and her assistant principal, Brian Vanisko, also told Cousin and Aquino about the school's Olympic theme, which they hope will continue to motivate staff and students.
"Our slogan is: Make It A Gold Medal Year," Vanisko said.
Bland said she was excited to start her 12th year as principal of Hammond Elementary.
"If it's not exciting, then you don't need to be here," she said.
It has become a tradition to pair a school employee and an elected official and have them assigned to visit a cluster of schools. For example, Arlene Harrison, administrative director of elementary education, joined County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty at Clemens Crossing Elementary, Swansfield Elementary, Longfellow Elementary, Clarksville Elementary, Atholton High, River Hill High and Wilde Lake High. Clarissa Evans, the school system's executive director of secondary curricular programs and instruction, joined board member Janet Siddiqui at Cedar Lane School, Fulton Elementary, Lime Kiln Middle, Reservoir High and Hammond High.
"It's a way of welcoming the students back, and letting the staff know that they are appreciated," Caplan said. "It also makes sure that everything is running the way it is supposed to the first day."
At Hammond Middle, Principal Kerry McGowan said many of her students were excited to have Cousin visit the school.
"The kids were like, 'Is that the boss?' " she said with a laugh. "It means a lot to the kids. The kids recognized him right away."