All last week, the sign outside North Carroll High School warned, "School opens Aug. 25. Ready or not."
The caveat was more for the students than for faculty.
School officials say they are fully prepared to welcome nearly 30,000 students to 40 refurbished buildings and one new school this morning.
"We have prepared all summer for this day, meeting continually to make sure we are ready," said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent for administration. "On our end, summer is the busiest time."
The most notable change this school year will involve the youngest pupils. Teachers will be working more math and reading into the kindergarten curriculum.
Nearly 2,000 children will enter kindergarten this week in staggered groups of about five so their teachers can evaluate them for reading and math readiness.
"Our kindergarten teachers have a big task of working math and reading into the curriculum," said Harry Fogle, assistant superintendent for school management. "It is important to know where to start with each child. Assessing individual readiness for school can help us provide the appropriate instruction."
In addition to the scents of new paint and floor polish, the children will be greeted by about 1,900 teachers, 150 of them new to the county system.
"We have had a good hiring year and we have hired quality people," said Guthrie.
With about 3,000 staff members, the Board of Education is one of the largest employers in the county. A maintenance crew of 400 has made certain that every school building was cleaned, painted and polished.
The county also is restoring all of its high school tracks and tennis courts in time for the fall sports season and physical education classes.
Carroll will have an additional high school graduation this school year now that Century High School in Eldersburg has its first senior class. Winters Mill in Westminster added a junior class to its enrollment.
Most students will arrive today by way of bus routes. The county operates 301 buses that travel 5 million miles annually, said James Doolan, director of transportation.
Education officials will begin implementing a five-year master plan this fall.
Elements of the plan are related to results of the new Maryland School Assessment test that were released last week. The scores showed Carroll students to be above average in every category but one - reading by special education students. Officials said they were intent on shoring up any problem areas.
"The whole plan is to do what we can to ensure the success for all students," said Barry Gelsinger, assistant superintendent for instruction.