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Superintendent Martirano says ‘happy new year’ as students head back to Howard classrooms

Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano annually celebrates his new year in September, not January, marking the beginning of a new school year.

“This is my happy new year. The most wonderful time of the year is now,” Martirano said Tuesday on the first day of school. “I’m looking forward to a wonderful year, making certain children are working hard, being kind and showing up to school every day ready to learn.”

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This school year will bring some challenges for the school system, as it undergoes a comprehensive redistricting process. Martirano proposed his recommendation of moving nearly 7,400 students to different schools for the 2020-21 academic year to the Board of Education last month.

Since the unveiling of the recommendation, community members have been vocal about it, many in opposition.

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“It has to be done; these are hard decisions,” Martirano said. “I just want people to know why we are doing this.”

Martirano’s three major tenets he’s looking to address are: balancing capacity among schools, working on Howard’s poverty rate and defining the boundary lines for the 13th high school in Jessup. The school board will vote on a final plan in November.

Student enrollment is expected to reach nearly 58,000 students this year, school officials said. According to a schools feasibility study released in June, an additional 850 students, or 1.4%, across all grade levels are projected. The school system releases official enrollment numbers on Sept. 30 of each year.

Martirano visited several schools Tuesday morning with Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Howard County Board of Education Chairwoman Mavis Ellis.

“It’s exciting to celebrate new beginnings with our children, educators and families as we start a new year of hope, excitement and possibilities,” Ball said.

At Lake Elkhorn Middle School in Columbia, the three were welcomed inside with posters and smiling faces from teachers and staff.

Lake Elkhorn is connected to Cradlerock Elementary School and so, as the middle schoolers were starting their day, elementary school students were being dropped off, some spending a few minutes on the playground before beginning their day of learning. Kindergarten students were lined up outside, holding their parents’ hands and waiting to go into their new school.

“I’m just glad to be with you guys this morning,” Ellis said to a seventh-grade United States history class. “It is so important to be here and to set goals.”

Ellis is looking forward to “giving even more to the work of the board” than ever before due to her recent retirement from the Montgomery County school system, where she taught high school government and was a pupil personnel worker.

She plans on visiting as many schools as possible this year.

On redistricting, Ellis is “looking forward to hearing all the voices of the community.”

Minutes after walking into Atholton High School in Columbia, a freshman asked Martirano where the gym was. He quickly gave her directions, not only because he has visited each of Howard’s 77 schools multiple times as superintendent, but also because his oldest daughter graduated from Atholton.

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Nehal Naqvi, a junior at Atholton, looks forward to the first day of school to be able to help new students find their classrooms and feel welcomed.

“The thing I enjoy the most about Atholton is it’s such a diverse place … you always feel welcomed, and I think that’s an important thing,” Nehal said.

He also is a peer mentor; he welcomes in freshmen and makes connections with them to build “positive relationships,” he said.

Nehal, 16, is a member of Atholton’s Student Government Association and helps plan its events. He also is the public relations chairman for Howard County Association of Student Councils.

In a freshman English class, Martirano asked students which middle schools they had attended.

The students answered with six middle schools: Clarksville, Hammond, Harpers Choice, Lime Kiln, Murray Hill and Wilde Lake.

As the redistricting process continues over the next three months, Ball said, “We need to make sure we invest in and care about all our children and educators.”

Ball ended his school tours at Oakland Mills Middle and Oakland Mills High, where his daughters are students.

In a sociology class, Martirano asked students if the summer break was “too long or not long enough?”

The students unsurprisingly answered back: “Not long enough.”

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