School's back in session

Grab your pencils, calculators, backpacks and lunches — Harford County Public Schools start a brand new year Monday.

While teachers have already reported back to their classrooms to gear up for the 2012-13 school year, kids don't begin for a few more days. The first day for pre-kindergarten students is Wednesday.

About 38,000 students will be enrolled in Harford County Public Schools this year, according to Teri Kranefeld, communications manager. She noted that, as with every school year, the school system can only "approximate enrollment until Sept. 30."

There will be 3,101 teachers for the school year - 161 of them new, and 10 principals who are "new to their buildings this year," Kranefeld said.

The first day off comes quickly, with schools closed Monday, Sept. 3, for Labor Day.

Bus routes for Harford County schools are available online at and in Friday's editions of The Record and The Aegis.

Unlike last school year when Red Pump Elementary in Bel Air opened, no new schools are opening this year in Harford County.

Some schools will still be using portables, including Jarrettsville Elementary, where four portable classrooms will be used while the HVAC system is worked on.

The school system is "finalizing an assessment of relocatable [classrooms], so they can present it to the board in terms of which portables can be removed," Kranefeld said.

While 73 portables are sitting on school property, not all of them are being used as classrooms. Some, Kranefeld said, are being used for storage.

One big difference, however, is teachers will be returning with a 1 percent salary raise.

In June, the Harford County Board of Education and Harford County Education Association came to an agreement to give teachers, guidance counselors and other members of the bargaining unit a 1 percent cost of living raise and a step increment raise for those who are eligible and a longevity increment for others.

HCEA members will also soon have a new leader.

HCEA President Randy Cerveny resigned from his post in July and a union members were voting Thursday night at C. Milton Wright High School to choose a new president and vice president.

Bel Air Middle School gets ready

On Thursday, teachers around the county were busy putting their classrooms together and getting prepped for next week.

Amanda DiSebastiano, a "relatively new" teacher at Bel Air Middle School, was one of those busy teachers.

In 2010, she was a student teacher at the school and worked as a long-term substitute. Not long after, she was hired as a mid-year replacement.

This year, however, is the first time she'll have her own classroom.

"It's refreshing to have my own room," DiSebastiano said.

The sixth grade language arts teacher said she has a "constructiveness approach" to teaching and encourages her students to be a part of a "collaborative process."

DiSebastiano was busy setting up her room Thursday morning, choosing which posters to put where, arranging desks in groups of four and setting out supplies.

The purpose of setting desks up in groups rather than rows, she explained, is to give the student "a sense of accountability" and it pushes the kids more when they see how their peers respond to assignments.

Encouraging a bit of "friendly competition," DiSebastiano has trophies the kids can win and show off on their desk for the day.

There was still work to be done in preparation for the kids' arrival Monday morning.

DiSebastiano said she still needed to plan her bulletin board, work on seating charts and get supplies together for the more than 60 students she'll be teaching this year.

This year, DiSebastiano's class will be reading "The View from the Cherry Tree" by Willo Davis Roberts, and "Hoot" by Carl Hiaasen.

Students will also write three full-length responses, including a response to literature, a persuasive essay and a personal narrative.

DiSebastiano is most looking forward to the Maryland School Assessment pep rally the school holds every year.

Last year, she said, the students took "complete control" and came up with a theme, created posters and performed a rap.

"I couldn't ask for a better job," DiSebastiano said. The teacher said she used to own a fitness business but became bored and "needed a challenge."

"I could go to school for the rest of my life," she said, and decided to try teaching.

DiSebastiano went back to school for her post-baccalaureate degree in English and secondary education.

"Every day is unexpected," she explained, "and I like to expect the unexpected."

"It's great to see all the teachers back," Principal Sean Abel, who was also in DiSebastiano's classroom, said.

He spent the summer doing more behind the scenes work, making sure everything would be prepared for the new school year.

Abel said he hired a few new teachers, coordinated with the building engineer to make sure it was clean and maintained while everyone was on summer vacation and ensure the new students had the correct schedules.

More importantly, Abel said he "planned the road map for the year," which is basically what the teachers and administrators "are going to work on to improve student achievement."

The principal also loves to see the kids come back to the school.

It's been a crazy summer for Christina O'Neill, who was named the 2012 Harford County Teacher of the Year in April.

O'Neill, also a sixth grade language arts teacher who was helping DiSebastiano with her room, said being Harford's representative "forces you to be introspective" and "think about the craft of teaching."

One of the best things she did, besides attending a Ravens game and a cruise from Annapolis to St. Michael's, was meeting all the new county school teachers and "see all the new faces that are stepping into this career."

O'Neill has taught for 19 years and said she still barely sleeps the night before school starts because of a combination of excitement and nerves.

During the summer she still works on her classroom setup and comes up with ideas for the school year.

The main thing is to make the transition for the new sixth-graders as easy as possible, including opening their lockers or walking them to class, if needed.

"I'm most looking forward to a new set of kids,' she said. "New opportunities, new kids to meet."

She loves to see the kids grow throughout the school year, learn and know she had a part in that.

"Nineteen years ago I walked into the classroom thinking I could change the world," she said, "and Monday I'll do just that."

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