- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 28, 2002

With new books, classrooms and teachers, students in their back-to-school clothes were antsy to unravel the mysteries of the first day of classes yesterday. And with a new school to serve their needs, the first-day giddiness only multiplied.
"I want to thank everyone for a fantastic, smooth and wonderful day," Principal Nelson McLeod II told his students and staff at the Newport Middle School in Kensington at the end of the day. "Thank you for a great opening."
Newport Middle, which opened its doors yesterday to more than 435 sixth- and seventh-graders, is Montgomery County's only new school this year. The students transferred here from the overcrowded Sligo Middle School nearby.
"This school was great," said Tairen Lamkin, 12, a seventh-grader and former Sligo Middle student. "I liked how the classes weren't overcrowded and the halls weren't packed and the teachers were so nice."
The school building on Newport Mill Road was formerly leased from the county school system by the Newport School, a private institution that has since relocated to First Baptist Church of Wheaton.
The county school system later reclaimed the building, renovated it and set up a new school with a new student body this year to help solve the overcrowding problem at Sligo Middle.
With the first day of school also comes anxiety of the unknown. The students have to locate new classrooms, the lunchroom, bathrooms and bus loading area.
"Buses that way," one administrator said repeatedly, pointing down the main hall to students filing out of the classrooms at dismissal time. "Buses down by the gym. Buses that way."
Earlier in the day, some students stumbled into the wrong classrooms.
"I got lost today," said Tairen. "I went down the wrong hall and into the wrong room." But she managed to find her way to the lunchroom and make some new friends.
The first day of classes may have come with a few kinks for the students, but Mr. McLeod said things went more smoothly than he had expected. He has been busy the past year hiring teachers, meeting with school officials and parents, and ordering equipment and school supplies.
"We had a fabulous opening day," he said as he pointed to the new tiger welcome mat, part of the $11,000 renovation the school underwent this summer.
"We chose the tiger as the mascot because 'tiger pride' is what we believe in."
The new "tigers" will be studying math for 90 minutes each day and will follow a block schedule, which means four alternate classes each day, instead of the standard seven daily periods, Mr. McLeod said.
"It was sort of weird," said Arlina DeLarosa, 12, a "not nervous" seventh-grader who is new to the block-schedule format. "Instead of going to every class, we just had to go to odd [classes]."
Though many boundary changes ignite public debates, the decision to rework school district lines for Newport Middle was embraced by parents in Kensington. Yesterday, the students also accepted the change.
"I left one of my really good friends, but I made two new friends, and I have a couple friends here from Sligo," said Tairen, who said she is excited about the days ahead.
Eighth-graders from Sligo Middle did not have to make the switch this year. They will be added to Newport Middle in 2003, so they may remain with their friends in Sligo Middle while the new school adjusts to its curriculum.
Yesterday was opening day for Montgomery County's 190-school system, which employs more than 10,000 teachers 1,000 of them new, and 55 percent of whom also are new to teaching.
With its largest enrollment yet 138,796 students the county's public school system is among the 20 largest school systems nationwide and is the 12th-fastest-growing in the country. Then county has budgeted $115 million over the next six years to fund construction for new schools and modernizing older schools.
Its public schools are operating on a $1.4 billion budget, almost half the county's budget and a 6 percent increase from last year.

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