School now open as Seven Oaks

The Baltimore Sun

Seven Oaks Elementary School was built two years ago, but only this week are its teachers decorating its bulletin boards and its students settling into their desks.

The building, which served as a long-term way station for Meade Heights Elementary School students and staff displaced by construction at a third school, is in the rare circumstance of creating a new identity, with a new name and new blend of teachers and students.

First-grade teacher Julie Hesenperger said she felt comfortable, despite - or maybe because of - her unfamiliar surroundings. Instead of having to blend in with long-established colleagues and procedures, everyone and every program is as new as she is.

"It's wonderful to come to a brand-new school," Hesenperger said. "It's like a new community."

The $23 million school in Odenton opened to 630 students as the first new school in the county since Piney Orchard Elementary in 2000. It marked another stage in the county's efforts to relieve crowding and renovate deteriorating schools, said Kevin M. Maxwell, superintendent of county schools.

Maxwell, who attended Monday's ribbon-cutting at Seven Oaks, said that Pasadena and Tracey's elementary schools are slated to reopen this year after extensive renovations. Next fall, the new Gambrills Elementary School should open.

Maxwell said he hasn't had any complaints about the redistricting related to the construction of Seven Oaks, which will feed into MacArthur Middle and Meade High. The area is expected to mushroom, with thousands of new jobs coming to nearby Fort Meade as a result of the military base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC. Once it is completed, the Seven Oaks community is expected to have 3,500 homes on about 850 acres.

County officials had to hire a new staff for Seven Oaks, including its principal, Lisa Leitholf. She had led Folger McKinsey Elementary in Severna Park for only six months when she was tapped in January to start planning for Seven Oaks.

While she was shopping at Sam's Club over the weekend, Leitholf spotted two large stuffed lions, the school's new mascot. The plush animals sat in her office as she prepared her opening remarks for Monday's open house.

"I couldn't resist," Leitholf said.

The 81,000-square-foot building - one of the biggest elementary schools in the county - received a fresh coat of paint inside and had wireless technology installed, Leitholf said. The school bought additional computers for the classrooms and three portable SMART boards, interactive whiteboards that display what teachers type on a computer screen.

Although everything is new for teachers and administrators, the students who attended Meade Heights at Seven Oaks for the past two years are familiar with their surroundings. They will have one major change: school uniforms. Students must wear white or light-blue shirts and navy-blue, light-blue or khaki pants, shorts or skirts.

Some students seemed ho-hum about being the inaugural class at Seven Oaks.

Tena Maynard, 6, said at Monday's open house that she was looking forward to getting cake there. Her older brother, Warren, who is starting second grade, said he wished his summer could have lasted a little bit longer.

On Monday, Heather Peterson was finishing up her last bulletin board in her first-grade classroom.

The board would remind students about one of the new school's initiatives, a discipline program that emphasizes positive reinforcement.

Peterson, who had taught in Prince George's County, said it would be a challenge to implement the program at a school where everything is starting from scratch.

"I think it's going to be interesting," she said.

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