- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004

A record number of Montgomery County students began their first day of school yesterday by returning to many classrooms that were updated with more than 9,900 new computers during the summer break.

Approximately 140,942 students are enrolled in the county’s 192 public schools this year, about 1,200 more students than last year, when the county school system was the 15th-largest and the 12th-fastest-growing school system in the nation.

The school system hired more than 800 teachers over the summer, and 27 principal vacancies were filled. Nearly 10,600 teachers are employed by the school system, however, school officials said that up to 40 more would be hired after classes began.

Maryland’s Department of Education said that all 24 public school systems in the state were experiencing teacher shortages.

Since the last day of classes in June, the county made several changes for this year, including instituting full-day kindergarten classes in 17 elementary schools for the first time.

Full-day kindergarten is part of the Early Success Performance Plan for pre-kindergarten through second grade to raise the bar for all students and provide them with the skills and knowledge to succeed in reading, writing and mathematics. The county works “inclusion” into the classes for students who speak other languages, said Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

“College begins right here in kindergarten,” said Mr. Weast, who spent part of the first day of school at Waters Landing Elementary School, one of the 17 schools beginning the full-day kindergarten classes.

“If you want to improve your community, fix your schools,” said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who joined Mr. Weast at Waters Landing yesterday.

The full-day kindergarten began in several schools in the 1980s, but was cut back to nine schools in the early 1990s, said Montgomery County Council President Steven Silverman.

Mr. Silverman said that it is good that full-day kindergartenis returning.

“This is a joyous day for Montgomery County households, especially for parents to see schools starting,” he said.

The measure brings the total number of schools that are offering full-day kindergarten to students to 73, which is more than half of the 117 elementary schools in the school system with kindergarten classes.

With the current expansion, full-day kindergarten will be in place in all county elementary schools by the state deadline of fall 2007, said Sharon W. Cox, president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.

As part of the technology-modernization program, the school system installed more than 9,900 computers in 47 schools. The school system also installed new printers, projectors and updates to network infrastructure.

School officials and Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger reminded students about school safety as approximately 1,230 school buses, equipped this year with two-way radios, resumed their morning and afternoon routes.

Meanwhile, schools also opened in Anne Arundel County, where officials said that nearly 75,600 students and 4,500 teachers returned to the county’s 120 public schools.

“All was in readiness,” said Anne Arundel spokesman Jonathan Brice. “The students were ready, the teachers were ready and the custodians had the schools ready.”

Schools in Prince George’s and Frederick counties began the new school year last week. The other public schools began the school year yesterday. Most schools in Virginia begin Sept. 7.

The 110 Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington begin classes today.

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