Behind new leadership, schools set to open Aug. 27

As summer fades into fall, more than 50,000 students in Howard County are preparing for the 2012-2013 school year, which starts Monday, Aug. 27.

Several changes will face both students and educators with the toll of the first bell.

One of the biggest changes within the school system is the stewardship of a new leader. Renee Foose became superintendent July 1, taking the reins from Sydney Cousin, who led the school system for eight years before his retirement.

Foose spent the first month and a half of her tenure making progress on her entry plan, which included reorganizing the duties of central office staff as well as creating new positions, like deputy superintendent of operations, filled by Ray Brown, and a chief accountability officer, filled by former colleague Elizabeth Grace Chesney.

"(The first day of school) is coming faster than we know," Foose said at the Aug. 16 Board of Education meeting. "Aug. 27 we open our doors to the graduating class of 2013. It's also significant, because we're going to be welcoming the graduating class of 2025."

A major change will welcome county middle school students. The board voted in February to overhaul the middle school curriculum to better tailor lessons to fit with the new Common Core State Standards.

Under the final plan, arrived at after months of contentious debate, students do not have to take traditional, stand-alone reading classes, but have the option of taking literacy-based courses. Two quarters of those classes are required for sixth-graders who did not score "advanced" on the fifth-grade Maryland State Assessment reading exam, and who were not already in reading interventions or seminars.

Other, more tangible differences await some students this year. During her Aug. 16 report, Foose noted that the school construction department had managed eight different projects over the summer.

But perhaps the most drastic physical change, faced by nearly 1,300 of the county's elementary students, is the move to a new school entirely.

Last fall, the board approved a redistricting plan that shifts students among schools in the southeastern region of the county — one of the most over-capacity portions of the district.

As a result, some students previously at Laurel Woods, Forest Ridge, Bollman Bridge, Guilford, Atholton, Hammond, Gorman Crossing and Fulton elementary schools are at new schools this year.

Pointers Run and Dayton Oaks elementary schools also will see new faces. Though no students were moved from Pointers Run or Dayton Oaks, both schools will see an influx of children as a result of the redistricting.

It's a change even more students will likely have to face again next year, as the board prepares to look at options for redistricting in the overcrowded northeastern region, in part to open a new elementary school in 2013 on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge.

While a redistricting plan will not be presented to the board until October, the school system is hosting two community meetings to present draft plans: Sept. 11 at Howard High School and Sept. 12 at Centennial High School. Both meetings start at 7:30 p.m.

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