School officials across the Washington area said they will be prepared for their first days of school this week even if it’s considered to be at the “last minute” for some.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Friday deflected criticism of moving slowly on school repairs by saying all 123 school buildings will be open for the first day of classes.
Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and school facilities director Allen Y. Lew said most schools are ready and crews have been working around the clock to put the finishing touches on four schools that fell behind schedule on repairs two weeks ago.
“We’re not sleeping at the wheel,” Mr. Lew at said a news conference at Wilkinson Elementary School in Southeast. “There are some challenges.”
Mr. Lew said the four schools - Draper Elementary School, Hugh M. Browne Junior High School, Eliot Middle School and Anacostia Senior High School - will open Monday, though some additional work on the schools may have to be done after school hours.
Mr. Lew said the District spent about $200 million over the summer to perform more than 10,000 work orders and what Mr. Fenty called a “decade’s worth of work.”
Mr. Lew said he hired additional contractors at Eliot and Browne, and at the now-ready Bunker Hill Elementary School to expedite the work.
Mrs. Rhee said working on the schools was among the first steps to turning around the troubled 48,000-student school system.
“If you know anything about the schools system, you know students were expected to work and learn in absolutely decrepit buildings,” Mrs. Rhee said. “That’s unacceptable.”
Mr. Fenty earlier in the week praised Mr. Lew despite criticism by some parents and education advocates who said schools did not appear close to being ready.
Mrs. Rhee said that textbook orders, a perennial problem for the system, had been filled at all except one school - Oyster Elementary, where her children are enrolled. Last year, poor management of the school’s textbook warehouse left staff scrambling at the last minute to supply the schools.
Mrs. Rhee has also taken steps citywide to remind parents when school starts after thousands of students skipped the first week of school last year.
The Washington Times reported that 20 percent of students were absent the second day of class last year while other local school systems reported attendance rates of 95 percent or better.
Other local school systems, including Maryland’s two largest districts, in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, also said they are prepared for the big day.
Steve Simon, spokesman for Montgomery County public schools, said all 200 schools are ready after crews spent the summer completing 14 construction projects.
“We’re totally prepared,” he said.
No new schools are opening this year in the county, but this is the first full year for Richard Montgomery High School.
Mr. Simon said school officials are “putting a lot of emphasis” on middle schools.
At Shady Grove Middle School, for example, students will have hand-held computers on which they can transmit answers to their teacher. He likened the system to the one used on the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”
“It helps to engage students in the learning process,” Mr. Simon said.
With 138,000 students, the Montgomery County public school system is the largest in the state.
Administrators are similarly optimistic in Prince George’s County, home of Maryland’s second-largest school district with about 132,000 students.
“We’re ready to rock and roll,” said spokeswoman Tanzi West. “Every classroom will have a teacher, and every bus will have a driver.”
Miss West also said the school system has the first completely green school, Vansville Elementary, in Beltsville. She said the school has such features as an in-ground geothermal unit that helps heat and cool the school and large windows for students to learn in natural light.
“We’re really excited and pleased to be setting a precedent for new schools across the country,” Miss West said.
She also said school officials this year want to improve upon the school system’s results last year in the Maryland School Assessment tests, in which every grade improved. Miss West said officials will embark on a “meet and beat” program in which they will visit students to encourage them to beat last year’s scores.
In Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools are gearing up for the expected 168,384 students that will begin school on Tuesday.
Providing transportation for the county can prove to be a logistics nightmare as Fairfax County boasts the second-largest publicly owned school bus fleet in the country, consisting of 1,600 buses that transport approximately 110,000 students to and from school each day on routes covering the county’s 399 square miles.
Arlington County Public Schools are just about ready to begin school on Tuesday, spokeswoman Linda Erdos said.
Students from the Arlington Mill Continuing High School program will have their classes at the Arlington branch of Northern Virginia Community College.
School officials last week embraced a proposal to move the students while the former site of the program is torn down and rebuilt. Officials considered the location ideal as it would help ease students’ transition to college life.
• Timothy Warren contributed to this report.