With minimal fanfare, a little chaos and a few unpolished spots, Calvert County's seventh new school since 1991 opened its doors for the first time Monday.
The new $8.5 million Dowell Elementary School's 812 students were greeted by a new staff and the smells of new carpeting and fresh paint. Teachers and staff members all wore T-shirts that said "Kids Do Well at Dowell."
On Monday there was little talk of redistricting concerns, last-minute hammering or the cleanup from a flood that drenched the floors in classrooms last week. The students, most of them veterans from one of four other southern Calvert schools, were more concerned about the lack of swings on the unfinished playground and the lack of grass on the soccer field that made teachers leery of letting them run on it.
School officials across Charles and Calvert counties scrambled to get schools, many of them under construction, ready for the first day of classes Monday. Charles County hired the last of its 200 new teachers last week, leaving 12 positions vacant. Officials expected an enrollment of 22,838 students in Charles County, 575 more than last year's.
In Calvert, the state's fastest-growing county, officials expected 15,458 students, up 375 from last year, and all 100 teaching vacancies were filled.
Much scrambling was needed at Dowell Elementary, where teachers said they were amazed that workers managed to get the school in good shape after a sprinkler head malfunction caused 15,000 to 20,000 gallons of water to flood several classrooms less than two weeks before classes started.
"We were wondering if we were going to be in, but here we are," said first-grade teacher Angela Burbank.
A few things still need to be touched up inside and outside the building--signs for doors have to be made, new textbooks have to be unpacked, computer terminals have to be set up, playground equipment has to be delivered.
Nevertheless, shortly after 8 a.m. Monday, the school buses began arriving with students. Last year, most of them attended Appeal, Patuxent, St. Leonard and Mutual elementary schools.
Parents were there too. "It's gorgeous from what I see, just a little bare," said Tess Smith, who was registering her two sons, Jarid Brown, 5, and Dymonde Brown, 6. The two boys transferred from a Christian school.
The day was not free of logistical problems.
By 10:30 a.m., Tracey Garner's son Wade, 9, still was unenrolled because his records had not arrived from Appeal Elementary. The mother and son waited in the main office as phones rang constantly.
"I understand that it's a new school," she said. "I'm very patient with it."
Wade seemed even more relaxed, despite switching to a new school for his last year in the elementary grades. "It's pretty cool," he said.
Once everyone settles into the new school, Principal Kathryn Alvestad, formerly the school system's director of accountability, research and assessment, said she would focus on preparing students for the MSPAP--the Maryland student performance tests--once all the boxes are unpacked.
"Our goal is to improve the new reading program and get ourselves gradually prepared for the MSPAP," Alvestad said. "We have that looming over our heads."