- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 27, 2002

In teacher Nicole Ray's seventh-grade science class yesterday, it wasn't about new clothes or new friends or mixed-up class schedules or even standardized tests. It was about plate tectonics.
"How many of you have heard of plate tectonics?" asked schools Chief Executive Officer Iris T. Metts, who stopped by G. James Gholson Middle School in Landover to teach a class.
Hands shot up around the classroom.
"It's when plates in the Earth rub together and can cause an earthquake," student DeWayne Davis, 11, offered.
Students and teachers returned for the first day of school in Prince George's County yesterday, months after the system underwent major changes last spring. The elected school board was replaced by an appointed one in June, and Mrs. Metts the once-embattled superintendent was named CEO of schools.
Mrs. Metts spent yesterday morning touring the new schools, handing out doughnuts to school bus drivers and hearing from parents with children who are part of the 135,617-student system.
The county also opened six new schools the biggest school-building boom seen in the district.
At G. James Gholson Middle School, there was confusion: There were lost children and lost parents, harried principals and bemused teachers. But in the end, there also was excitement and fun.
"I was a little nervous getting the students ready," said Ms. Ray, referring to her first day on her new job. "It's been hectic, but it has been fun so far."
Landover parent Anthony Smith accompanied his 12-year-old son, Anthony Smith II, to help him get settled.
"He was excited, but he is a little shy," Mr. Smith said. "I hope the classes are balanced. It will be all right. I have been through this before."
It isn't the first new school Principal Tujuana White has opened, but she said her task was more daunting this time because of the size of the school, which can accommodate 900 students.
"It's been going well," she said. "Once we get all the children to class, it will be fine."
"And this new school is gorgeous," she added.
The other new schools that opened in Prince George's yesterday are Ernest Everett Just Middle School, Cora L. Rice Elementary School, Lake Arbor Elementary School, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones Elementary School and Rosaryville Elementary School. Three more schools reopened after extensive renovation: Berwyn Heights, Carmody Hills and Dodge Park elementary schools.
Prince George's wasn't the only school district to open new schools yesterday. In Frederick County, 168 students started at the state's first charter school. Students at Monocacy Valley Montessori School were selected by a lottery system.
Principal Catherina Genove said yesterday that the school was running down to the wire with the opening. The school didn't get a permit to open from the fire marshal until late Wednesday afternoon.
Loudoun County in Virginia, the third-fastest-growing county in the United States, opened five new schools yesterday.
Students in Calvert, Charles, Howard and St. Mary's counties also went back to school yesterday.
Ann Arundel County students return today. Students in the rest of Northern Virginia and the District return next week.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County is trying to make it safer for students to get to and from school after it opens tomorrow.
County officials said yesterday that pedestrian-safety improvements are either complete or under way at about a quarter of Montgomery's high schools. They include a pedestrian-safety video to be played for middle and high school students. The list includes Northwest High School in Germantown, where a jaywalking 15-year-old student was killed in January. Authorities say she darted in front of a car.
Prince George's County schools had two milestones yesterday. Forestville Military Academy, the first public military academy in the state, opened its doors. And several thousand more children will go to school closer home now that 30 years of court-mandated busing has ended.
While there were light moments yesterday, Mrs. Metts reminded the students why they were studying science, telling them that this class is about the rest of their lives.
"You need science," she told them. "You need it to run things and be a success. Today is a new beginning for you."
"A lot of students don't see the relevance of science," she said. "I came to inspire."
Asked whether she prepared the night before, she laughed.
"I looked over the curriculum," she said. "But in the end, Newton's laws are Newton's laws."

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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