This was the first week of school for more than just the nearly 51,000 students attending Howard County schools. It also was the first day of school for recently appointed Superintendent Renee Foose.
Foose, hired this summer to replace former Superintendent Sydney Cousin, spent the first day of school, Monday, touring schools and speaking to students with other local officials, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.
"Howard County represents the best of public education," Cardin said, in between stops on the tour. "You see a commitment from county leaders, a commitment from administrators, students and teachers. They're all excited to be here, so it's energizing."
Foose's and Cardin's tour (the group also included County Executive Ken Ulman and Board of Education Chairwoman Sandra French at times) took them through several schools, including Mount Hebron High School, Patapsco Middle School and Thunder Hill Elementary School. Foose also visited Northfield Elementary School and Longfellow Elementary School.
Other school administrators and local elected officials also visited schools throughout the morning.
Foose said she plans to personally visit all 74 schools by the end of the first marking period, Nov. 1.
In the midst of her tour Monday morning, Foose, like Cardin, noted the high energy of both students and staff members, and said she expected that energy to continue throughout the school year.
"This is a high-performing system, so there must be some energy working here," she said.
By the end of the year, Foose said, she hoped the schools are performing even better than they are now.
A typical student — the system welcomed the Class of 2025 with the kindergartners' first day of school Monday — has 1,080 school days in elementary school, 540 in middle school, and 720 in high school. That's a short amount of time to do a lot of work, Foose said.
"It's not enough time, so we have to do all we can to make sure our graduates are college-ready or (ready to become) high-wage earners," she said.
During the tour, Foose and Cardin spoke to several classes. At Mount Hebron, she asked a Spanish class where they went on vacation. At Patapsco, she asked if anyone had read any good books over the summer.
"Summer is a great time to read a book," Foose told a sixth-grade social studies class.
"It's fun to explore and enjoy (the world), and part of it, you can explore by reading a good book," he said.
Several in the class indicated that they had, indeed, read books over the summer.
Patapsco Principal Cynthia Dillon said it was an honor to have the local officials visit the school, where she said the "academically rigorous and nurturing environments are alive and well in Howard County as we embark on the new school year."
As part of the tour, the local officials also noted the work of school construction and custodial staff; Hebron recently completed a four-year renovation and Patapsco's hallways gleamed.
"Everything is so well-kept, and it will be this nice all through the year," French said. "If you have pride in your surroundings, you have pride in your work."
The tour also served a higher purpose, French said.
"This boosts morale," she said. "It says, 'We are here to serve you. We may not be in the buildings constantly, but we care about you.' They are in our minds when we try to make good decisions, and just walking through the schools, it makes us better connected, so we can make better decisions."
At Thunder Hill, Ulman voiced similar sentiments.
"It's important to come great the school system staff and teachers, to send the message that, 'You are the engine that drives Howard County,'" he said. "It's encouraging; we place so much value on investing in our children."
Baltimore County shooting
While the first day of school went off without a hitch in Howard County, schools in neighboring Baltimore County were rocked to the core when a 15-year-old student shot a 17-year-old student at Perry Hall High School Monday, sending him to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in critical condition.
"We are terribly saddened by the incident that occurred at Perry Hall High School yesterday," Foose said in a statement Tuesday. "Based on media reports, it appears the school staff responded swiftly, which may have saved lives."
While Howard County students should not expect to see any additional security measures in the wake of the Perry Hall incident, Foose said, many proactive measures already are in place to keep students safe and secure, including a heavy emphasis on anti-bullying initiatives. Some reports indicate the 15-year-old shooter was a victim of bullying.
"Last week's professional development for student services was focused on eliminating bullying," Foose said. "Students are encouraged to anonymously report suspicious behavior or postings on social media."
Additionally, Foose said, each school has an emergency response plan which is reviewed and updated annually, and school staff are trained in lockdown procedures.