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Howard County heads back to school

Students got the chance to meet their principals' "boss" Monday, as Superintendent Renee Foose, Board of Education Chairwoman Christine O'Connor and Howard Council Chairman Calvin Ball toured six Howard County schools on the start of the new academic year.

The tour started at 7:25 a.m. at Marriotts Ridge High School and continued to Mount View Middle School, Howard High School, Oakland Mills Middle and High schools and ended at Talbott Springs Elementary School.

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During the tour, the group visited several classrooms and asked students what they were looking forward to this year. In a fifth-grade classroom led by teacher Nick Gough at Talbott Springs, one student said he was looking to "get all A's." Another said she wanted to try and be more organized. One was simply looking forward to "awesomeness."

The new Wilde Lake Middle School will be a net zero energy school, the first of its kind in Maryland. To achieve net zero energy, the school is designed to generate as much energy as it uses.

Foose said everyone is excited to be back to school.

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"It's been a smooth opening. Classrooms look great, and schools are in excellent condition," Foose said. "We're going to have a gold medal year."

Enrollment numbers in Howard County schools for this year are expected to exceed 54,000 students, which is nearly 1,000 more than last year. The school system has hired 194 new teachers in response to the growth. Mount View Middle, Howard High and Oakland Mills High and Middle schools all welcomed new principals as well.

"All the principals are excited," Foose said. "We have a very talented administrative staff systemwide."

Each of the schools Foose visited had achievements to celebrate. At Howard High, Principal Nick Novak was named the 2016 Maryland Outstanding Leader. Oakland Mills Middle will host its second annual coding competition for Howard County middle schoolers in December, and at Talbott Springs, Principal Nancy Thompson was celebrating her 10th year with the school.

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On Aug. 25, Cortney Jordan was hired by the Howard County Public School System to teach fourth grade at Bollman Bridge Elementary in Jessup. The next day she caught a flight to Houston, first stop on her way to swim in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro as a member of the US Paralympics team.

This year more schools in the county will include a strengths-based philosophy in the classroom. Created through a partnership with consulting company Gallup, the philosophy focuses on helping students and staff realize their own strengths and set unique academic goals.

"We want to focus on what is strong with the students, not what is wrong," Foose said.

By focusing on student achievement, Foose said, Howard County will reach its gold medal goal.

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