- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

Administrators and teachers in Prince George's County, Md., scrambled all last week to ready county schools for the return of 131,000 students today from summer vacation.

Also, school officials had to find ways to get many of the 131,000 students to school on bus routes missing drivers and, once they arrive, to educate them in classes missing teachers.

At Hyattsville's rebuilt Northwestern High School, William Ritter, the new principal, ate lunch with his staff on Friday in the bright and airy new food court. He said the school would be ready despite classrooms still filled with boxes but missing desks.

"It's not perfect, but we're ready," he said. "This is the second new school I have opened, and this usually happens."

Moments later, four teachers presented him with a petition signed by 109 of the school's 120 teachers asking to delay the opening of school.

The petition expressed their concern that the school was not ready to open and that they believed "it was unwise" to do so.

"Some teachers weren't able to get in to their rooms until Friday," said Darla Heinz, a German teacher. "Others still have boxes stacked around their rooms. This is a mess. It isn't right to start school off in chaos."

While Northwestern's teachers praised the new building with its sleek modern design in gray, navy and teal and its new high-tech equipment, many complained of not having enough desks and chairs for their students. Others worked through the weekend to sort through boxes, set up chairs and scrounge for decorations.

"It seems like I have been here 24 hours a day," said Dianne Yohe, head of the English Department, while unpacking a box Friday. "We'll do what we have to do."

Things looked better at the county's first all-new high school in 25 years, Charles Herbert Flowers in Springdale.

Located on narrow and hilly Ardmore-Ardwick Road, the $30 million brick-and-glass building sits among trees beyond a construction site where dump trucks and bulldozers work to finish the entrance road.

Beyond paint touch-ups, missing light panels and the road construction, Flowers High School is ready to welcome an estimated 2,000 ninth- and 10th-graders, school officials said.

"We have a ways to go but we will be ready," District 6 school board member Ken Johnson said at an open house Saturday to show off the school. "We are not where we would like to be but far enough along to start school."

Most of what's missing doesn't matter to 10th-grader Monica Carroll, who would have attended Duval High School if Flowers hadn't opened.

"I am excited because we are the first class here," she said. "Besides, this school isn't run-down like Duval."

Meanwhile, desperate school administrators spent last week hiring teachers and seeking out more. As of Friday, the school system had hired 1,100 of the 1,300 new teachers it needed. Forty percent of the new hires have provisional licenses, school officials said.

Many attribute the shortage to teachers leaving for better-paying jobs in other counties, the growth in enrollment and demand fueled by the new full-day kindergarten programs and the new high school.

"We need two [more teachers] here at Glassmanor and we consider ourselves lucky," said Linda Waples, principal of the elementary school in Oxon Hill. "Our bigger problem is that our books and other equipment haven't been delivered although they were ordered in February. There are so many things left undone this year."

Another principal who did not want her name used said that between the thousands of dollars cut from her school's budget, open teaching slots and missing text books, she "was at wits' end."

"I have called and called personnel and the administration and can't get through," the principal said. "I don't have the classrooms manned or the money I need to do the programs I did last year… . This is the worst opening I have ever been through."

Among the schools still looking for teachers was Langley Park-McCormick Elementary in Hyattsville, which needed to hire 10. Substitutes will fill in until permanent replacements can be found, school officials said.

At the same time, school transportation officials are using every substitute bus driver they have including themselves to make up for the lack of permanent drivers on 100 routes. That is four times the shortfall of last year.

School officials say that the county is still short by 50 substitutes and will have to double up some drivers' runs in order to get the 100,000 bus-dependent students to school.

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