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Curtain goes up today for school system


When the school year dawns today, sleepy commuters on MTA bus lines will share seats with 40,000 children.

Food-service workers will warm about 65,000 slices of pizza for the first school lunch of 1995-1996.

"Marquita" and "Tiona" will find new name tags on their steel locker at Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School in Baltimore.

Across the city and the school system yesterday, parents and teachers and maintenance workers geared up for the first-day drama as if they were backstage moments before a musical's opening curtain.

School system officials repeated their assurances that when the audience arrives at showtime -- about 113,000 students are expected today -- almost everything will be in place.

"We're ready to roll," said Wilber C. Giles, director of facilities, panting between calls from panicky school administrators yesterday. He has more than 180 buildings to maintain. There are all kinds of last-minute crises to attend to, he said: electrical systems that overload the first time computers are plugged in after three months, plumbing that fails as if directed by Murphy's Law.

"Carpets are clean, bathrooms are clean, floors are mopped," Mr. Giles said. "There are new stripes painted on the athletic fields. We are ready."

Across Baltimore, students and parents were preparing, too. By 2:30 p.m.yesterday, 274 children had received required vaccinations in a makeshift clinic at school headquarters on North Avenue. An additional 100 children stood with their parents in a long, straggling, hot line down a hallway.

Jerome Powell, 12, who is to enter seventh grade at Booker T. Washington Middle School, puffed up his chest. "I ain't scared to get a shot," he announced as his mother, Linda May Powell, leaned wearily against a wall. They had been in line almost an hour and expected to wait at least an hour more.

Downstairs at the placement office, Tenia Anderson, 14, closed her eyes and clenched her fists as she waited to hear whether she would be permitted to enroll at Carver Vo-Tech.

"Yes!" she squealed as placement officer Janet Briscoe offered her a slot in a secretarial program that offers the computer training Tenia wants. Tenia and her mother had sat at school headquarters from 11:15 a.m. to 3 p.m. for that news, along with 113 other families who had waited until the day before school started to snag transfers and wrap up paperwork.

Across town at Thomas G. Hayes Elementary, Renee Walker wrote out a seating chart for her fifth-grade math students. She has taught them for three years, and she knows who wiggles, who talks too much and who needs to sit near the front.

Ms. Walker said she had been working on her lesson plans and decorations -- including the locker labels -- for two weeks. "I need to go to bed early tonight," she said.

Upstairs, Peter Jordan huffed and puffed as he rolled a cart through the school to the service elevator. It was loaded with a huge rocking chair he had brought from home to put in Room 303's reading corner for his fourth- and fifth-graders.

"Tomorrow, I'll bring pillows and carpet," he said. "I'll be here until 5, then tonight until about 8 or 9, I'll do some paperwork. I won't feel like I'm ready until after tomorrow's over."

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