School resumes relatively smoothly in Washington region

Hundreds of thousands of students return to classrooms across the D.C. area.
By Michael Birnbaum and Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

School resumed Monday for thousands of students in the Washington area, minus the back-to-school glitches that have plagued the region in recent years and with a new elementary school named after President Obama.

Most Prince George's County high school students had class schedules. A year ago, computer problems kept thousands out of classrooms for days. And in the District, the majority of textbooks were in schools. Three years ago, books and supplies languished in a warehouse because of a dysfunctional organization system.

But the smooth return didn't keep worries from parents' minds as budget cuts led to reduced services and larger classes.

Parents at Barack Obama Elementary School in Prince George's were excited to start the year in a new building, but many were worried about cutbacks. Except in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, classes in the county are larger this year by an average of two students.

"You kind of wonder what kind of attention the kids are going to get," said parent Angela Webster of Upper Marlboro, whose two children were starting their first day. "We just know we'll have to work with our children at home more."

Webster's son, Kelly, 8, a third-grader, was sad to see the end of summer but appreciated his new school.

"I like the name," he said.

What's in a name?

Naming a school after a sitting president is unusual but not unprecedented. At least six other U.S. schools are named after Obama, including one in Hempstead, N.Y., that was renamed immediately after the 2008 election. Prince George's school officials settled on the name in June 2009, four months before Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor he suggested might be based on the promise of the future.

Obama isn't the first president to lend his name to a school while in office. In 2003, George W. Bush Elementary School opened in Stockton, Calif. In 1970, a Hiawatha, Iowa, school was named Richard M. Nixon Elementary.

Prince George's voted heavily Democratic in the 2008 election, and in the majority-African American county Obama is considered a role model. A mural in the new school's main hall includes the president, and a cabinet near the entrance is filled with campaign buttons and newspapers marking his historic election.

Some Prince George's high school students were without schedules Monday, but the problem was nothing like the widespread ones last year. Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said many of the students had registered late. Other students had courses they hadn't signed up for and were missing ones for which they had registered, a problem mentioned by several parents at Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro.

Hite said that schedule problems should be resolved this week and that everything else is "running well."

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