Sean Bulson, the new superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, took the traditional first-day-of-school bus ride with William S. James Elementary School students Tuesday and helped them and their families kick off the start of of the 2018-2019 school year on campus, the first of many HCPS traditions he hopes to take part in this year.
“This is a great tradition,” Bulson said while visiting the Abingdon school. “It was fun to experience it.”
“From there we’ll keep working on making things even better for our kids,” he said.
Bulson, who started work in early July, rode the bus with Board of Education members, state legislators, County Council members, County Executive Barry Glassman and several of the superintendent’s top aides.
“We had a lot of great people on the bus, energy was fantastic; but of course the best thing is always seeing the kids,” Bulson said.
Bulson succeeds former Superintendent Barbara Canavan, who retired in June after 45 years with HCPS, her last four as superintendent.
Bulson is a former University of North Carolina System official who has been superintendent of schools in Wilson County, N.C. and a teacher, administrator and community superintendent with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland.
Students throughout Harford County and Maryland went back to school Tuesday morning. HCPS has about 37,800 kindergarten through 12th-grade students in 54 schools.
After hugging and kissing their parents good-bye, the William S. James students were greeted by the driver, Dave Hovel, and officials as the bus rode through the Timberwood, Bynum Run and Tiffany Trail neighborhoods.
“It’s a special day, we’ve got the new school superintendent with us!” Hovel called out as the children got on.
Hovel has been a school bus driver for 14 years; on Tuesday he was driving a contractor-owned bus through the Corbin Fuel Co., of Bel Air. He said he has driven the route for William S. James for 11 years.
“You have to know them all to make things work,” he said.
First-graders Caden Dray and Andrew Paquin, both 6, sat together and compared backpacks. Andrew’s backpack was decorated in a Super Mario Bros. theme, and Caden’s had a Star Wars theme.
Caden said Luke Skywalker is his favorite Star Wars character, while Andrew said Bowser is his favorite Super Mario character.
When asked what he looking forward to most this school year, Caden said, “learning how to tell time.”
Andrew said he likes recess.
‘Together we will be ...’
When the bus arrived at William S. James Elementary, other school board members, Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler and HCPS’ chief of safety and security, were on campus for the celebration.
There are 440 students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the school, along with about 50 faculty and staff members, including 18 classroom teachers, principal Becky Reese said.
There are 40 more students this year compared to the 2017-18 school year, according to Reese, who said the school is in “a nice community that attracts many young families,” citing the area’s proximity to Interstate 95 and Bel Air, as well as many starter homes.
The school adopted a carnival theme to celebrate the first day, with staffers dressed as clowns, mimes, weightlifters and other carnival performers, promoting William S. James’ status as “The Greatest School on Earth.” Students and their parents could pose for first-day photos at one of several booths around the main entrance.
“We just believe that the first day of school should be a celebration and should be memorable and exciting,” Reese said.
This year’s motto is “Together we will be … .” People can “fill in the dots” with words such as “collaborative,” “cooperative,” “enthusiastic,” “friends,” kind” and “empathetic,” the principal said.
“Whatever adjective you want to add to come together, and be stronger than we have been,” Reese said.
She said the school is “blessed to have Dr. Bulson and his guests on his first day of school; we hope it’s memorable for the students and their families.”
Glassman said he has met with Bulson over the summer, and he plans to meet with the superintendent on a monthly basis.
“I’m always excited [for] the first day of school. I think Dr. Bulson is going to bring a breath of fresh air to the system,” said Glassman, who also praised Harford County’s teachers, saying they “do a great job.”
Parent Shaniea McIntosh, of Abingdon, has two of her three children at William S. James. Her oldest, Sharai, is in third grade, and her middle child, Jemyah, started kindergarten Tuesday.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” McIntosh said of the first-day experience. “I like how [the teachers] make the kids feel at home and welcome and comfortable for their first day.”
McIntosh said she loves the school and that the staff “make you feel at ease, leaving your child there eight hours of the day.”
Manny and Marlana Fonseca, of Edgewood, dropped their 5-year-old daughter, Sophia, off for her first day of kindergarten.
Sophia said she is most excited about the school’s multiple playgrounds.
Marlana Fonseca described the different emotions she feels about her oldest child starting elementary school.
“You’re happy, you’re sad,” she said. “Your little girl’s growing up so fast, but we are so proud of her.”
The Fonsecas praised William S. James staff for their friendliness and effective communication, and for hosting events that allowed them to get acclimated to the school.
Their younger child, aged 3, attends preschool at the Kiddie Academy early childhood education center in Abingdon, the same preschool Sophia attended. Manny Fonseca said she enters kindergarten knowing how to read and count, in English and Spanish.
“I’m super excited to see her progress in her education and making new friends,” he said.
Aegis photographer Matt Button contributed to this report.