- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Nine state-of-the-art schools will open their doors to more than 7,000 students in Prince George's County on the first day of school Monday.
"This is symbolic of a new day in Prince George's County," said schools Chief Executive Officer Iris T. Metts during a tour of three new buildings yesterday. "We are opening nine new buildings, we have given teachers the highest raise in the area, we have hired 900 teachers and we have totally revamped the curriculum."
Of the nine schools, six are completely new and three are renovated. With the newly built schools, the county has constructed 12 of the 26 schools under a county plan, a schools spokeswoman said.
County Executive Wayne K. Curry, a county school system alumnus, said before he took office Prince George's had built only two schools over 12 years.
"We have arranged for 26 schools in two years People often overlook the scope and magnitude of this project," he said.
Additionally, 13 schools must be built under a 1998 agreement among the county, the school system and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The agreement, or memorandum of understanding, requires the phasing out of court-ordered busing to desegregate schools in the county and return children to neighborhood schools.
Three of the schools opening this year Cora L. Rice Elementary and G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover, and Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville were built to comply with the agreement. The first school is named for a civil rights leader, the second for a longtime county administrator and the third for a scientist.
"It makes you feel humble," said G. James Gholson, 90, who attended yesterday's event.
Mr. Gholson was principal of Fairmont Heights High School between 1950 and 1969, when it was one of only two high schools in the county that would admit black students, and worked for the desegregation of schools in the county.
He said yesterday was a "wonderful day" for the school system but added a lot more remains to be done.
Other new schools opening this year include Lake Arbor Elementary School in Mitchellville, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones Elementary School in Adelphi, and Rosaryville Elementary in Upper Marlboro.
Some construction work is still going on but all buildings will be ready by the first day of school, officials said.
"The opening of schools is an immense challenge," said David Lever, director of planning and architectural services.
"There are a host of tasks to be accomplished and many things that can go wrong," he said, adding that he did not foresee any major problems.
The new schools have state-of-the-art labs for computers, science and art, and the architectural design allows a lot of natural light into the rooms because studies show children learn better in daylight, he said.
Mrs. Metts, who had some high-profile battles with the past school board, praised the appointed board for working with her, and said the good relationship has made the opening of so many new schools at the same time possible.
"I don't think we would have made this much progress" with the old board, she said. The appointed board replaced the elected board in June.
Those who will work in the new buildings, like Principal Marian White-Hood of Just Middle School, said it would be a completely new experience.
"This is an inspiring school. The light and the geometric design make it really unique," said Mrs. White-Hood, who has been a principal in the county for 10 years.
The red, blue and yellow colors on the floors, she said, were chosen by students who were deciding on the design after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"It was a very emotional time for us," she said, adding the school had chosen the eagle for its mascot.
Two schools, Cora Rice Elementary and Gholson Middle School, are located in the same complex and will share some facilities, including the media room and the gym.
A community recreation center will share space with Just Middle School.
"It is a good example of sharing limited resources, of people willing to work together," school board member John Bailer said.
Parents also welcomed the opening of new schools.
"I think this is a good thing to relieve overcrowding," said county PTA President Howard Tutman, who has a daughter at Woodmore Elementary.
Students yesterday welcomed visitors to Just Middle School.
"This is much bigger, much newer and much brighter. It does make you feel more like coming to school," said Mercelyn Matthews, an eighth-grader who will move from Kettering Middle School.
"I like it much better here."

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