- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

Kenya Baxter was a nervous new student at the Jefferson Houston Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., nearly 20 years ago.
Yesterday she was back, this time a parent seeing off her son and daughter on their first day.
"I brought them here because I wanted to try something different for my kids," she said." And I thought it would be a good idea to share this school with them."
Like Mrs. Baxter, hundreds of parents looking for something new swarmed through Jefferson's lobby yesterday morning as it opened for its first year as an arts-focus school with a new broadcast studio, an orchestra room and a specially designed dance room.
And so it went, another first day for most area school systems, as hundreds of thousands of students returned to classes.
There was a smattering of first-day problems: In Montgomery County, Md., Thomas S. Wootton High School students got a free day because of construction delays. About 100 students at two Silver Spring elementaries were forced to stay an hour late because of a barricade situation nearby. Some Fairfax, Va., administrators had to drive buses because the school system still lacks bus drivers a situation echoed in the District of Columbia, where drivers doubled up runs because of driver absences.
For the most part, though, the day went off without a hitch.
In the District, 68,000 students returned to class some to new school supplies. D.C. firefighters delivered more than 1,000 donated notebooks, pens and crayons to the children at Walker-Jones Elementary in Northwest.
"This is a very low-income community," said Beatrice Hunter, a guidance counselor. "The parents and kids are so excited."
At Anacostia High School, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and schools Superintendent Paul Vance took a tour. Mr. Vance, who replaced Arlene C. Ackerman, said he was "enjoying" his first day of school as the District's school chief.
"The schools are clean, the teachers are in class, and the students are where they are supposed to be," he said. "It's like school never ended. That's the way it should be."
Terry Fowler, 16, who worked over the summer at a Gaithersburg, Md., movie theater, said he was thrilled to be back at Anacostia High School, even though his class schedule is "all messed up."
"I missed my friends," he said." This a reunion."
Principal Mildred Musgrove said in between hugging students: "I know this looks chaotic but look around. As long as they are laughing and talking and having a good time, I'm happy."
Montgomery County welcomed most of its 135,000 students, except for those attending Wootton.
Superintendent Jerry D. Weast toured schools including Bel Pre Elementary a school with an award-winning reading program that this year reduced its class sizes by an average of 20 percent.
"The teachers will tell you that this is heaven," said Principal Margaret Yates.
Judith Tenley's colorful room illustrated school Shangri-La: 17 kindergartners learn about "The Kissing Hand" while trying to identify animals in the book of the same title.
"An owl," cried out one.
"A bird," offered another.
"A possum," managed another.
Nearby, a reading teacher worked with individual students to assess any special needs.
"We are trying to build something seamless," Mr. Weast said. "We are trying to bring in more teachers, better trained and constantly trained to tighten up the web."
And in Northern Virginia, some 190,000 students returned in Alexandria and Fairfax and Arlington counties some to new and renovated schools.
Samuel W. Tucker Elementary is Alexandria's first new school in 30 years. The system has about 11,000 students.
Fairfax County the largest Northern Virginia school system with 161,000 students opened Westfield High School and added 58 new classrooms to other schools to accommodate about 4,000 new students.
Yesterday, principals reported only a minor glitch here and there.
At Jefferson Houston, two school buses came in late, said Principal Blanche Hutchinson. At Westfield, the last bus arrived just before the first bell rang, Principal Dale Ruhmberger said.
"It has been a crazy day," he said at the end of the school day, sipping lemonade from a paper cup in the empty cafeteria. "There have been exhilarating moments like appointing new teachers and there have been terrifying moments like if a delivery didn't come on time," he said about the days before the school opened. "But today, everything has been very smooth."
Outside the cafeteria, Kim Skouzes was racing through the mazelike corridors of the new building to locate the gym where her son, Demo, was playing football with old and new friends.
"He forgot his football pants," she said, pointing to a balled-up pair under her left arm. "One of those first-day things," she said with a laugh.
Latisha Arlington, 10, a fourth-grader at Alexandria's Jefferson Houston, said she had had a great first day.
"I did a project on football today," she said. "It was my favorite I play football with the boys all the time."
The only tears at the school, said teacher Sonia Haley, came from a boy who had to go back home because of some improper paperwork.
In Arlington, where about 18,000 students reported for school, Tuckahoe Principal Cynthia Brown said she herself had been waiting, "very excited," for the new school year.
"A school is an unpredictable setting," Ms. Brown said. "This can be the place where a child learns the first word, reads the first book or even loses the first tooth. We love that we are here through all that."

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