On first day back to school,things go smoothly Few snags reported as thousands of students return from vacation


Smooth and routine.

Those were the words that best described the opening of schools throughout the metropolitan area yesterday, as thousands of area youngsters filed back to class at summer's unofficial end.

In Baltimore, the area's largest jurisdiction, officials reported only minor glitches as the first wave of an estimated 111,600 students returned from vacation.

"It was eerie -- but nice," said one school official, briefing new school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, who has been on the job for just a month.

The system's top administrators spent the day dispersed to school buildings around the city, working with teachers, observing operations and trouble-shooting.

Meanwhile, Mayor Kurt Schmoke and his Cabinet spent the morning touring six city schools by bus, led by the superintendent.

They found smooth sailing at most places around the city.

Though a handful of schools reported maintenance and electrical problems, these were being repaired, and did not stop classes from getting under way.

Classrooms were well-stocked with books and materials, and officials reported only 26 vacant teacher positions yesterday, down from 41 last year.

"We have fewer vacancies. I have fewer comments coming in about facility problems," said Patsy B. Blackshear, the deputy superintendent in charge of management services.

School police reported only one major incident near a school, an arrest by a city police officer near Walbrook Senior High School, which did not involve a Walbrook student.

Operations also were normal at Hampstead Hill Middle School, the site of community complaints about disruptive students earlier this year. School officials have been working closely with the community and administration at that school.

The big question mark was opening-day attendance -- a perennial problem in Baltimore, which last year listed about 20 percent of its students absent on the first day of school. Attendance figures are expected to be made public today.

In Baltimore County, the first day of school was also routine.

"Things went smoothly," said Rick Bavaria, county schools spokesman. "Even Mother Nature cooperated. If this were last week, a lot of people would have been unhappy."

Jane Doyle, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County public school system, said, "This has been one of the quietest first days anyone can remember. We haven't had any problems, or if there've been any problems, they must have been taken care of at the individual schools."

Doyle said even the reports of transportation problems, often a beginning of the year tradition, were very few.

While final figures were not available on how many students arrived for the first day of classes, Doyle said she expected the final total to be close to the school system's projection of 66,000.

In Howard County, school spokeswoman Patti Caplan said there were no unusual problems reported for the first day of school.

"We had a beautiful first day of school," Caplan said. "We had the usual minor transportation problems, a few kids left at the bus stop.But we made sure everyone got to school."

Caplan said Howard, like most counties in the metropolitan area, is feeling the effects of the baby boomlet. This year the school system is projecting an enrollment of about 31,400, up almost 1,500 from last year, she said.

Two new schools opened this year -- Pointers Run Elementary School in Clarksville and Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge. However, the schools are being filled nearly as soon as they are opened.

Laurel Woods Elementary School in Laurel was over capacity the first day of school, Caplan said. Built for 544 students, the elementary school has about 800 students enrolled. And, additional students were waiting to be enrolled yesterday, she added.

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