Baltimore school board members heard last night from a number of central office administrators who assured them that despite hurdles, all 180-plus city schools will be ready to receive students on opening day next week.
"I do believe this will be a very successful year," said Frank DeStefano, who oversees the city's high schools.
More than 95,000 city students will start school Tuesday. Classes began Monday in most other area school districts.
DeStefano said city high school principals have been told to put more emphasis on ninth-graders, who have been found by many researchers to be particularly vulnerable to behavior problems, absenteeism and dropping out.
"We will be focusing ... particularly on laying the foundation that will keep ninth-graders engaged and in school for their entire four years," DeStefano said.
Other challenges this year include placing more than 100 new teachers, Shelia Dudley, the system's human resources director, told the board.
Because of changes in school staffs, enrollments and system budgets, about 125 newly hired teachers do not have permanent positions.
Because the district has not been able to hire enough teachers certified to teach special education students, officials said, they might have to fill those positions with some of the 125 "surplus" teachers, at least temporarily.
"We've had a very difficult staffing year," Dudley said.
Dudley said the district has no teacher vacancies in any of its core courses: math, English, science and social studies.
"And, I'm happy to say, all of our teachers we did hire are considered highly qualified" or are on their way to becoming certified, she said.
This year, the system is making a greater effort to include parents and the community in the schools, officials said.
The school board heard preliminary details last night of the system's first Family and Community Engagement Policy, which is intendcd to ensure that every school has an active PTA-like organization.
About 90 percent of city schools have such groups, officials said, and no policy governs them. Some parent organizations are virtually defunct or meet rarely.
Under the proposed new policy, the parent-community organization would be required to meet at least four times a year and to include representatives of groups such as special education students.
Also last night, board members began reviewing proposed policies that would help them approve and oversee any new charter schools in the district.
In June, Maryland became the 40th state with a law making it easier to establish a charter school, a public school organized and run by groups other than the local school board.
One of the policies the board is considering would allow a maximum of three new charter schools to open in the city in the first year.
The first charter school in the city is not likely to open before the fall of next year.