When Tamia Musgrave's daughter Tyler told her that she wanted to go to Annapolis High School, Musgrave thought about the news reports on poor student performance and teachers being forced to reapply for their jobs.
"My first reaction was 'No,'" said Musgrave, who lives in Arnold. "All I knew was what I heard and what I heard was negative."
After talking with friends who taught in the county and several visits to Annapolis High School, Musgrave changed her mind.
Tyler, 14, of Arnold, was accepted into the International Baccalaureate program at Annapolis High, an honors curriculum that gives students a more global perspective and a challenging workload.
"What I've heard from people who go here is that it's really fun," Tyler said.
She and her mother were among hundreds of freshmen, parents, teachers and community members who turned out Wednesday night at Annapolis High's open house, a sort of coming out for the revamped school before classes resume next week.
After four years of failing state tests put the high school at risk of takeover, Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell in January ordered all staff members to reapply for their jobs.
Today, nearly a third of the teachers - 42 of 112 - are new to Annapolis High. Principal Don Lilley said they add fresh perspective but that he wasn't able to increase the staff's diversity. Twenty-seven percent of the teachers are minorities.
"I can only interview who shows up," Lilley said.
New and returning teachers at Annapolis High underwent training this summer to institute programs at the high school, including Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports or PBIS, Lilley said. The program provides rewards for good behavior, such as "Panther bucks" to spend in the school bookstore and weekly prize drawings.
The school also has made other changes. Annapolis High expanded its ambassador program to reach out to all the families of freshmen to see if they need information or social services. Juniors and seniors will be working with ninth-grade advisory teachers to mentor freshmen.
The high school has also adopted a middle-school-type "team" approach by dividing freshmen into three large groups. Students in each group will attend classes together, which helps the students and teachers bond, Lilley said. Teachers will be able to assess their students' strengths and weaknesses better and get to know their parents, he said.
For seniors, Annapolis High has instituted twilight classes to help seniors make up credits for courses they failed. The after-school classes can help seniors graduate on time, Lilley said.
Teachers and administrators also are reaching out to the community. Last weekend, 25 teachers met with students' families at a community block party. Lilley said there would be more of those meetings. A group of about 18 to 20 teachers will visit the churches their students attend to build relationships with pastors and bond with students outside of school.
"We want the kids to see us in a different setting," Lilley said.
Annapolis High is reaching out to businesses and nonprofits to help provide mentors. The YWCA received funding this year from the United Way to expand a middle school mentoring program to the high school. Turning Point will provide 30 high school girls with lessons on topics such as financial literacy, entrepreneurship and character.
The YWCA has been trying for several years to expand that program to the high school, said Barbara Palmer, director of family services at the Y. At the cookout on Wednesday, she signed up 10 students.
"We found that once they went from the middle school and came here they were now falling through the cracks because they didn't have that one-on-one," Palmer said.
County school board member Eugene Peterson said he welcomes the changes being introduced at Annapolis High, but noted that it would take more than just this year to see if those changes have an impact.
"I don't think that Don Lilley should be measured on one make-or-break year," Peterson said.
The cookout was an opportunity for other organizations to make contact with students.
Members of the Annapolis chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha met incoming freshmen. The fraternity, hopes to expand the mentoring program it launched last year at Annapolis High.
The Parent Teacher Student Organization set up a table to sign up new members. Parents picked up fliers to find out about volunteer opportunities. PTSO president Pam Bukowski said that some PTSO members are still upset about the teacher ouster but most just want to move forward.
"I think there is a sense of what's done is done, and we have moved on," she said.
Cindy and Kyle Kliewer of Annapolis said they were worried that some of the teachers who taught their daughter Kaitlyn, a junior, had not returned. They said they've been pleased with her performance and have no concerns about their younger daughter Nicole starting her freshman year.
"Sometimes change is good, and sometimes change is bad," said Kyle Kliewer. "We'll have to see what happens."
Many parents welcomed the chance to meet teachers and administrators at the picnic on Wednesday. Rowlena Edwards of Annapolis met her daughter's homeroom teacher and toured the school. She said she had been worried after hearing reports of fights at the school last year, but after she heard about the changes , she felt more comfortable.
"I got a real warm feeling today," Edwards said. "I have a feeling things are going to be different this year."