UPDATED 9:25 a.m.
Summer break officially ended Monday morning for the District’s 45,000 public school children and many of their 30,000 peers in public charter schools. Some returned to new or extensively renovated buildings. Three charter schools opened their doors for the first time.
Classes also resumed for more than 120,000 students in Prince George’s County, Maryland’s second-largest school system. Next week, schools will reopen in Montgomery and Loudoun counties. Most Northern Virginia schools start after Labor Day.
Ten minutes before school officially opened, the parking lot at Dodge Park Elementary School in Landover was packed with cars unloading students. Parents came carrying large bags filled with Kleenex, notebooks and pens. Others came with cameras around their necks.
“I need to take a picture of my grandson on his first day!” Deborah Windham said as she walked into the building with her son and her grandson, both named Dariece.
Victoria Holmes stood in the middle of the school’s main hallway, wishing students luck and directing them to new classes. She is the new principal at Dodge Park, one of 44 in Prince George’s.
It will be a year of significant changes in the system. Most schools have lost a full time librarian, extra curriculum activates have lost funding and class sizes will go up by an average of one student - due to budget cuts.
Still, on the first day of school, everything seems possible.
“As a parent there are three things you care about,” said Ola Edun, parent of a pre-kindergartner and a first-grader. “First is security, that the environment is safe. Second that the school is preparing them for a good career. And third is transportation, that things are easy to get to. I know the place is safe and the teachers are good.”
His third concern, though, was a little trickier. He had to get to work, and the parking lot was still jammed.
In the District, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Chancellor Kaya Henderson, were presiding over their first school opening since taking their posts. They will be joined by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley in welcoming incoming ninth-graders to Eastern High School on Capitol Hill. They are the school’s first freshmen since Eastern was closed to new students in 2008 after years of poor academic performance. A $76 million renovation was completed last year.
H.D. Woodson High School students in Northeast D.C. will attend their first classes on a new $124 million campus. Anacostia High School and Janney Elementary in Northwest also begin the year with major renovations.
Henderson said Friday that all 123 schools in the traditional public system are fully staffed and that she expected no major glitches. The state superintendent’s office, under criticism from a court-appointed monitor for poor bus service to 3,500 special education children, also said it was prepared for day one.
One Monday, the Center for Inspired Teaching Public Charter School debuted in Ward 5. The school offers a curriculum for pre-school through third grade based on a teacher training program that emphasizes intellectual inquiry and creativity. It also plans to expand one grade each year through eighth grade.
“Happy first day!” said Principal Zoe Duskin, crouching to eye level to meet each new arrival at the PS-3 school, which is occupying the ground floor of another charter school, Potomac Lighthouse.
Two other new charter schools began this morning: Mundo Verde Bilingual in Dupont Circle, an immersion language program for pre-school through first grade that will eventually serve students through eighth grade; and Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts in Northeast’s Ward 7, which will focus on writing skills, classics and modern languages for eighth and ninth graders with a planned expansion to 12th grade.
A fourth charter school, Shining Stars Montessori in Ward 1, serving pre-school and kindergarten, opened last week. It projects an expansion through sixth grade.
There are now 53 charter schools spread across 99 campuses in the city.