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Fresh start at Annapolis High School

YESTERDAY — Everybody noticed the changes at Annapolis High School yesterday, from the girls who arrived at school in midriff-revealing outfits to the boys caught snoozing in class.

Yesterday - the day that about 75,900 county students returned to classes after a two-month summer break - appeared to be a fresh start for Annapolis High.

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The school, which has been troubled by discipline problems in the past, is under new administration for the first time in a decade.

Students here had a lot to digest. There was the new principal, Deborah H. Williams, who would call you "sweetie" but wouldn't beat around the bush if you violated the dress code or standards of classroom behavior.

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There was a new countywide schedule: four periods instead of seven.

And there were new rules. If you wanted to carry a book bag during classes, it had to be see-through. If you wanted to miss classes or be habitually tardy, there was a new punishment in store: Saturday detention.

Staff members and teachers marveled at the difference in tone.

"This has been the best opening we've had since I can remember," said Natalie Chapman, a student advocate who has monitored the school's halls for the past 10 years. "We're getting discipline back in here. We're getting respect."

Apart from confusion about the new schedule, things appeared to run smoothly yesterday. Students who looked lost quickly were approached by a teacher or administrator.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith, who was present when the first morning bell rang at 7:17 a.m., said he believes Williams will be a strong leader. "You really establish yourself in the first 30 minutes of the school year," Smith said.

The visit was the superintendent's first stop of the day, followed by visits to various schools throughout the southern part of the county.

Schools officials said opening day went smoothly throughout the county, aside from some unexpected last-minute enrollments at Meade High School, which serves the local military population.

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At Annapolis High, students reported that many teachers began lecturing promptly yesterday, unlike in past years, when little real work was done on the first day of school.

"It was kind of boring [today]," said junior Greg Hintz. "We were all learning things the first day. Before, it was just coming and getting books and stuff."

Yesterday afternoon, Williams, a former administrator and principal in Prince George's County, walked around the school, greeting students and picking up the occasional piece of trash.

"Ladies. Let's go. Let's go," she shouted at a group of girls who had gathered at the other end of a hallway, after a class bell had rung.

Williams stopped another group walking at a slow pace. "You all know where you're going?" she asked. The boys and girls said they did. "OK. Next time, be timely," she told them, shooing them along.

Veteran teachers said they have never seen the halls so empty during classes.

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Spanish teacher Lynn Kolarik said she's used to peeking out of her classroom and seeing groups of students loitering.

"This is totally different for us," she said. "I think the word is out that discipline is going to be much tighter."

Kolarik added that she loves the new Saturday detention that the new principal has been publicizing. Kolarik threatened a couple of students with it already, she said, and it worked.

Williams popped her head into a French class. "Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?" she asked the students in a cheerful, loud tone. They looked at her with blank expressions.

"You're ahead of them," teacher Maureen Baggett told the principal. Unfazed, Williams said goodbye to the teen-agers: "A bientot."

The principal said she woke up at 4 a.m., excited about the day ahead. She donned a black-and-red pant suit and comfortable shoes with rubber soles - the better to make her rounds. And she did just that during most of the day, pausing only to wolf down her lunch in three minutes, sitting at her desk.

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Stopping in the social studies wing, she pulled out two boys who had fallen asleep in class to give them a scolding.

"Go to the bathroom and throw some water on your face and come back here," she ordered. The boys, looking sheepish, obeyed. Before allowing them back into the classroom, she told them, "If you want to fail, tell me now and we can give you an 'E' and you can go home."

During a visit to an Advanced Placement government class, Williams took part in an impromptu question-and-answer session. Students' hands shot up one after another.

"What's with these clear backpacks?" asked Lacey Sugarman, 17.

"It's about me making sure we all are safe here," Williams said. "It's a precautionary measure, no different than what the airport does."

Quintin Wallace, 17, told Williams he had missed his opportunity at lunchtime to make a change in his schedule and asked if she would walk him to the office and let him do it. She set the teen straight, telling him he would have to wait in the lines at lunch like everyone else.

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"One thing you'll find out about me is that I try to be consistent," Williams said. "I don't do special favors."

Some students said they were glad to see the administration take a hard line on discipline.

"Thank God," said Morgan Wilt, a senior. "'Cause we had such a bad rap."

Wilt, who wore a white top, knee-length blue skirt and a pearl necklace, said she saw administrators single out students for inappropriate dress.

"Last year, there were girls that walked in [wearing] outfits that were horrendous," she said. "It was just anything goes."

Just before leaving for bus duty, the principal made an announcement over the loudspeaker. She reminded students to review the conduct and dress codes, and to walk on the right side of the halls and stairs, to prevent gridlock.

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"You are reminded that you are to be in class at 7:17, and you are to be in class each day," Williams said.

"Those of you observed sleeping in class today, be reminded that that is not tolerated behavior. Have a great day. We'll see you tomorrow. On time."


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