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School gets final touches

Less than two weeks before its opening, New Town High School in Owings Mills - Baltimore County's first new high school in 25 years remains a work in progress - though one that is nearly finished.

Outside, workers are sweeping the dirt off just-completed sidewalks; inside, teachers are decorating their classrooms.

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"We'll be ready," Principal Margaret I. Spicer declared on a tour of the $35.3 million, 214,825- square-foot building yesterday.

Spicer guided visitors through wide hallways, past state-of-the art computer labs and into a 600-seat auditorium. Next, she showed off an 18,000-volume library and finally, a video production studio.

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"It's a beautiful building, but what's important is the quality of programming," said Spicer. "If we don't have the quality of programming, we're going nowhere."

New Town High will have to be ready when ninth-graders rush to their classrooms Aug. 25. Tenth-graders will follow the next day. The school will open this year with only those two classes.

"This school had to be built," Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said yesterday while visiting the 64-acre campus, which sits in one of the county's fastest-growing communities.

Parents, who have clamored for a new high school for years, hope this one will not suffer the same crowding that tarnished the opening of New Town Elementary, across the street, in September 2001; it remains hundreds of pupils over capacity.

"I'm impressed," Jeanette Key, the PTA's second vice president, said of New Town High. "My main concerns would be: Are we able to accommodate the children? And will the education be a quality one?"

Spicer estimated 430 students would enroll at New Town High this year - 412 have registered - and said the school's 36 teachers are more than enough. The school can accommodate 1,348 students.

She said the academic program will be on the cutting edge. To get students thinking about college and careers, they will pick an area of concentration - the arts or business, for example - and take related classes.

The only sour note has been the surprise departure of Wayne Thibeault, the hand-picked principal, who announced in June that he was leaving to take over Havre de Grace High School in Harford County.

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The move initially left some teachers and parents unsettled. But they now say they're eagerly anticipating the start of school.

"I'm going to walk into this building every day with a smile on my face," said Jodi Grosser-Gonzalez, chairwoman of the world languages department.

"I love the kids, and now I have a better facility to do my job," she said.


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