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Carver takes center stage to greet new superintendent and new school year in Baltimore County

Dance and Kamenetz greet students at new, $58 million school in Towson

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

10:25 AM EDT, August 27, 2012

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The George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, in Towson, has always had a good reputation for its educational program, which provides creative outlets for some of the county's most artistic students.

But rarely, said junior Zoda Ismailova on Monday, has it been so enviable in the eyes students from other county schools.

When photos of the new $58 million schoolhouse were recently released online, Ismailova saw peers from other schools posting excitedly on social media networks about the building.

Previously, she said, the general sentiment was "it's Carver, it's a good school."

"Now, it's the school," she added.

Those sentiments were confirmed at an assembly Monday morning that kicked off the school year at Carver. Held inside the school's massive auditorium, it marked the first time in recent memory the school has had a space where students and teachers could gather together on the first day of school.

"So many people worked to get us where we are today and make this dream a reality," Principal Karen Steele told the boisterous student body during the assembly.

Steele told the students, who filled the auditorium Carver so desperately lacked at its old building, that architects, designers, builders and even their teachers were committed to providing everything the school's diverse student body of creative minds will need.

"As you get to know the building, you'll see how thoughtful they were in thinking about what you need, and creating a space that truly honors the meaning of our school community," she said.

"Everything is so new… but what isn't new is the culture of Carver Center," she said.

The assembly, attended by new BCPS Superintendent S. Dallas Dance, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, and several school board members, served as an occasion to celebrate the school's construction before classes began.

For Dance, it was an exciting way to begin his first day of classes as superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools. He told the students that as he entered the large, open foyer, he could feel the energy and spirit he had been told existed at Carver.

"As I've told everyone I've visited, I want you to stretch yourself this year," Dance told the students. "I want you to put ambitious goals on the table this year, but I want you to have that sense of community that I felt when I walked in his building.

"This is such a great facility, but your work at Carver Center is beyond the facility," he said. "It's the sense of school spirit, the sense of school spirit, and the sense of pride that makes you who you are."

The new Carver school has been three years in construction, and the York Road campus is now home to two schools, as Stoneleigh Elementary has taken up occupancy of the former Carver building for a year. That move is to accommodate Stoneleigh's own expansion project.

Carver's new building is designed for the school's magnet mission, and includes features specific to its curriculum of music, dance, culinary arts, theater, technology, business management and cosmetology. The school houses television production facilities for the school system's BCPS-TV programming, and earlier this month, Carver was named as the home of the new Baltimore Symphony Youth Orchestras.

On Monday, the school's many new features almost took a back seat to the sense of excitement and awe among students and staff.

Sarah Mininsohn, a junior, said Monday was "much different" from a traditional first day of school, thanks to the celebration and the new building.

"It's big, and it kind of looks like 'High School Musical,' " she said. "It's kind of ridiculous."

Freshman Alena Lattik said before the assembly began that the celebratory assembly and all that came with the high-profile first day piled onto the normal pressures of such a day.

"There's a lot going on," she said. "I just can't take it."

Fellow freshman Kerry Owings had to ask for directions to his first-period class, but took solace in the fact that many upperclassmen did as well.

He said he had a general idea of where things were, thanks to orientation sessions last week, in which each class had its own ribbon cutting ceremony and scavenger hunt in the school to help them acclimate to the new surroundings

"But it's really big," he said. "I feel like I'm going to get lost a lot."

Lisa Reid, a math teacher at Carver, said the building was tremendous.

"I think this morning represents a point where the talent represented inside the building is finally matched by the building that holds it," Reid said. "I'm looking forward to seeing great things."

As she and her classmates milled around outside their first-period cosmetology, Ismailova said it might be weeks before the new-school buzz died down. But once the students found their way to class, teachers abandoned their roles as classroom greeters and picked up where they left off last May.

The celebration was over.

Class was in session.