Students, city and state officials gear up for new school year

Md., Baltimore, Howard officials and administrators greet pupils

August 30, 2010|By Erica Green and Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Officials from Maryland, Baltimore city and Howard County greeted area students as children, faculty and staff headed back to the classroom Monday morning.

Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake started their day in the city at Mount Washington Elementary. Rawlings-Blake's daughter Sophie will enter the second grade at the school next year.

"It means something that the mayor sends her child here," Alonso said.

While at the city elementary, Alonso likened the beginning of the school year to the opening of a sports season. "It's the greatest day of the year," he said.

Mount Washington was the first stop on the schools chief's back-to-school tour, which includes stops at Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle in Butchers Hill, the George W.F. McMechen Middle/High School in Northwest Baltimore, and the new Walbrook High School campus, also in Northwest Baltimore. Each school represents the system's focus on enrichment and engagement.

In Howard County, Superintendent Sydney Cousin and County Executive Ken Ulman were scheduled to mark the start of the school year with visits to several schools, including Clarksville Middle and Pointers Run Elementary.

Rawlings-Blake expressed excitement about her daughter's enrollment at Mount Washington Elementary next year — "She's excited. She knows that second grade is serious business," she said — and issued a call for this school year to all of the city's 83,000 students.

"Make this the best year yet," she said.

Grasmick seemed as bubbly as the students Monday morning.

"The children's excitement is contagious," she said. "There's something about the first day of school. There's nothing like it."

The state superintendent noted that the entire state was entering the school year on a high note, thanks to millions in federal funding from Race to the Top. Baltimore, she said, is at the center of the reforms due to take place in districts around the state. The quality teaching and learning taking place at the high-performing and highly engaged Mount Washington is exemplary, she said.

"When I come to a school like Mount Washington, it's just thrilling," Grasmick said. "I want to replicate this everywhere in the city."

But she wasn't the only person brimming with excitement.

Marcy Leonard, principal of Hammond High School in Columbia, woke up nearly three hours before school's start. That's no small task, considering the Howard County school begins its day at 7:25 a.m.

Students appeared a bit sluggish, but Leonard was a bundle of energy, greeting students and consulting with faculty at the school's entrance along Guilford Road.

Getting up at 4:30 a.m. "was more excitement than anything else," said Leonard, who is entering her first year as Hammond principal. A former principal at Atholton High School, she won the Maryland PTA Educator of the Year award two years ago.

"It's been a great summer. I've had an opportunity to meet staff members, students, community members," Leonard said. "They've all just been so proud to be a part of Hammond, which has made very proud to be a part of this community."

School officials estimate that more 49,853 students will enroll in Howard's 72 schools this year, an increase of nearly 100 students from last year. In addition, nearly 300 teachers have been hired to fill vacant positions in the system.

At Hammond, other workers helped Leonard maintain some semblance of order in a hectic day. The school crossing guard, perched at the campus entrance, was busier than a flagman at an airport, a convoy school buses lined up at the school and scores of cars filled the parking lot to drop off their children.

Most of the young people said that they spent their summers with friends and going to the beach.

"My summer was good, but it was too short," said 11th-grader Tavon Patterson while walking to school along Guilford at around 7:15 a.m.

He then joined a group of students speeding up their pace, after one shouted, "We're going to be late! Do you see anyone else walking?"

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