While visiting classes on the first day of school, new Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose had a pedometer strapped to her waist as part of a systemwide program for employees that emphasizes health.
By midmorning, she had already logged tens of thousand of steps, canvassing hallways, classrooms, weight rooms, media centers and cafeterias of the system she took over in July.
"This is like a kid waking up on Christmas morning. That's exciting," said Foose, who joined other local, state and elected officials in ushering in the first day of the academic calendar year for many jurisdictions.
Among the schools Foose visited were Mount Hebron High and Patapsco Middle in Ellicott City and Thunder Hill Elementary in Columbia. School board Chairwoman Sandra French accompanied Foose, and they were joined at various stops by Sen. Ben Cardin, County Executive Ken Ulman and County Councilman Calvin Ball.
Asked about her first few weeks on the job, Foose said, "It's been fantastic. Staff has been extremely welcoming, they have embraced my entry plan and we've made great progress."
Foose, a former deputy superintendent in Baltimore County, took over for retired Superintendent Sydney Cousin, becoming the first woman to head the Howard public school system. This summer, she began implementing her entry plan for the system, which includes a partnership with the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard, ensuring transparency and studying how well the schools prepare students for colleges and careers.
"We're moving toward the 90-day mark [of the plan] and we have implemented several key initiatives — realignment of staff, cost-saving measures," Foose said. "We are looking at levels to reduce redundancies in certain areas, and our goal is to make sure we have the most efficient resources filtering into the schools."
Howard school officials say they anticipate 50,932 students will be enrolled this year in the system's 74 schools, an increase of more than 400 students over last year. Officials said they've hired 315 teachers for the new academic year.
"Our school system is the anchor of this county, it's the engine that drives it," said Ulman, who joined Foose on the class visits after dropping off his children, a first- and a sixth-grader, at school. "It's the reason why so many people want to be a part of this community."
Ulman was scheduled to stage the coin toss at Friday's Atholton High School football game, the county's first on synthetic turf, school officials said. The Howard school board and the county's Recreation and Parks Department approved an agreement in May to provide synthetic turf fields for all county high schools.
Foose, Cardin and French began last Monday at Mount Hebron High, alma mater of Rose Mayr and Elizabeth Nass, both 19, who died early Aug. 21 when a train derailed in Ellicott City, burying the two in coal.
Mount Hebron Principal Scott Ruehl said the school had guidance counselors and school psychologists on hand for students.
"Our biggest job is to make sure our staff is prepared in case there are any students still struggling with that," said Ruehl, in his fifth year as principal at the school. "We're making sure staff is keeping an eye out for any students in the classroom or any student discussions."
"The recent graduates, what a tragic situation it was," said Cardin. "It just goes to show that life is uncertain, and we've got to do everything we can to take opportunities we have and to be thankful for what we do have."