Kimberlyn Pratesi, principal of the almost-ready-to-open Dayton Oaks Elementary School, was setting up her office Friday, unpacking cardboard boxes while all around her the sounds of sawing and hammering could be heard.
"I plugged in my computer and it works," said Pratesi, who was principal at Lisbon Elementary before taking the helm of the county's newest school in February. She had been working out of a temporary office at Marriotts Ridge High School until moving to Dayton Oaks, and she was glad her computer worked because that would help her communicate with incoming staff members and parents.
The school, on Ten Oaks Road in Dayton, is not quite ready. The floors of the gymnasium are raw wood, not yet sealed, and the school's mascot, a dolphin, has not been painted on the gym floor. The plumbing does not work yet, and paper signs taped on the walls warn people not to drink the water or use the bathrooms. Desks and other furniture have not been delivered.
But Pratesi said work is on track for the school to open Aug. 28. The school is a bustle of activity, with workers delivering boxes, stacking books in the media center and putting the finishing touches on classrooms.
"We're coming along," said Linda Shaw, the principal's secretary, sitting behind a desk surrounded by boxes. The air conditioning works, she said, and so does the public address system. "Day by day, we get one more thing working," said Shaw, who was most recently was a secretary at Reservoir High School.
Teachers will be able to claim their classrooms and begin setting up, starting Aug. 14, a week before teachers in other county schools, Pratesi said. Students will get to see the new school and meet their teachers Aug. 25, and the community is invited to an open house from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 27.
Pratesi said her most important job, to date, has been making sure the community is well informed about the school. Most of the 580 elementary pupils came from Triadelphia Ridge and Clarksville elementary schools, she said, though others are from Pointer's Run or private schools or are new to the area. An additional 40 or 50 youngsters will be in the school's preschool program.
She has been working to make sure pupils and their families feel connected to their new school. Information has been sent to parents, and pep rallies have been held. A PTA president, Niles Morton, has been elected.
Pupils voted on a mascot - the dolphin - and school colors - blue and gray. And they created sailboat decorations in the spring that will grace the halls, tying into Pratesi's oft-stated motto that the school is "set to sail."
The school will house students in preschool through grade five, and have all-day kindergarten. It is two stories, with the lower grades and preschoolers on the first floor. All first-floor classrooms have a restroom.
According to Pratesi, the school is the first in the county with this design, which includes classrooms instead of pods, and open "extended learning areas" where pupils can meet with speakers or work in small groups.
Other features include a mini-auditorium on the second floor and a computer lab.
Though the school is taking shape, more work needs to be done. In one classroom, volunteer Nancy Ervin, the mother of third-grader Jessica (who attended Triadelphia last year), was working among stacks of boxes, checking off inventory sheets.
Ervin was focused mostly on items for the preschool, including toys and floor mats.
Parent volunteers have been valuable in getting the school ready, Pratesi said. Ervin said the task is more difficult than it looks. "It's hard to organize this quantity of stuff," she said. Pratesi said the boxes piled high in the classroom were only a fraction of what was arriving. Realistically, she said, items will continue to arrive even after school starts.
Pratesi, who has been in the Howard County school system for 16 years, said many of the teachers and other school officials were already working in the county. The leadership team, including Assistant Principal Carol DeBord, formerly of Pointer's Run, and team leaders, was assembled by May.
Pratesi, a former elementary-school teacher, remembers opening Ilchester Elementary School in 1996, when she was a teacher there.
But being the principal is different. "It has been quite busy," she said. But, she added, "Things are really falling into place. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but it's a team effort. I'm surrounded by wonderful people. And that includes both staff and parents."