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Teachers, students head back to school Monday

School is days away for students in Harford County, and with it come the early mornings and homework-filled weekends that dominate students' lives.

As summer dwindles, students, parents and teachers prepare for the coming 2011-12 school year with back-to-school shopping, orientations and open houses. Bus drivers memorize their routes as students memorize class schedules.

This year brings several changes for Harford County Public Schools in terms of personnel and new construction.

The school system is welcoming 175 new teachers this year and is debuting a new phone system for parents, called Teleparent, Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for the school system, wrote in an email last week.

Teleparent, she wrote, will give parents flexibility in how they receive information from the school system.

In addition, the Harford County Board of Education approved several transfers this past year, under the recommendations of Superintendent Robert Tomback. Among these recommendations were a variety of principal and assistant principal positions.

The most controversial, however, were the demotions of former Aberdeen High School Principal Tom Szerensits and former Joppatowne High School Principal Macon Tucker.

Prior to spring break last year, Tomback met with both principals to give them three options, retire, accept reassignment or be fired. In a school board meeting in May, their decisions were clear.

Tucker will start this year as assistant principal at Patterson Mill High School, and Szerensits as assistant principal at Bel Air High School. Taking their place as principals is Pamela Zeigler for Joppatowne High School and Michael O'Brien at Aberdeen High School. Both Zeigler and O'Brien were too busy in preparations for the first week of school for an interview about their new positions, according to Kranefeld.

Board members also approved Richard Jester as the new principal for Fallston High School, replacing Joseph Schmitz, who became executive director of high school performance.

Several elementary schools will be getting new principals as well, including Benjamin Richardson at William S. James Elementary, Christopher Yancone at Riverside Elementary, Creighton Leizear at Bakerfield Elementary and Monique Wheatley-Phillip at Abingdon Elementary.

This year also marks the first for Red Pump Elementary School, which finished construction over the summer. The addition of Red Pump Elementary School prompted a controversial elementary school redistricting process, which will be put into effect this year as well.

Not much, however, is controversial with the school, which debuts with color-coded wings for students, a smart board in every classroom and a media center complete with a television studio.

Although most of the sneak peeks for Harford County schools have been held by now, there are a several Back-to-School nights coming up throughout September and the schedule is available online at the Harford County Public Schools website.

Also available online is the 2011-12 application for Free and Reduced Price Meals for Harford County Public Schools. Students who were approved last year, according to a press release, will be eligible for the first 30 days of the school year, but parents need to re-apply for benefits for the remainder of the year.

The applications can be submitted throughout the school year, according to the release, but parents are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. To submit an application, parents can fax it to the Food and Nutrition Services office at 410-638-4201, drop it by their office on 101 Industry Lane in Forest Hill or at any school.

The school system is also prepared for the potential impact of Hurricane Irene, Kranfeld wrote Wednesday, saying they were in constant contact with the Emergency Operations Center to monitor the storm and its projected path.

"All systems are in place to communicate any information to parents should our normal operating schedule change or to deliver any necessary emergency school system messages," she wrote.

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