The carefree days of summer ended early for Prince George's County public school students, who returned to the classroom Monday, a week before many of their peers in the Washington area. The school board, which decided on the early start, wanted to add more class time to the school year and give students a head start preparing for the Maryland School Assessment exams, which are scheduled to be administered in February and March.

The new school year brings some changes to the system, including 55 new principals, 45 new vice principals and 850 new teachers. Students are also facing new academic programs, such as requirements that high school freshmen take algebra and physics, courses many of them would not have encountered until later. And students are spending more time in English and math lessons, in one of several changes that schools chief Andre J. Hornsby has instituted to bolster test scores and improve overall performance.

The administrative and academic changes come as the school system begins phasing out some of its magnet programs, as part of its settlement of a decades-old desegregation lawsuit. Also, a number of students have relocated to different schools this year, the result of ongoing boundary changes under the school system's effort to return children to neighborhood schools.

Dezeraie Blount, 5, focuses on her Winnie the Pooh lunchbox as she waits to begin her first day of kindergarten at Fort Foote Elementary School. The academic year began a week earlier for Prince George's students than for many other schoolchildren in the region.Sonia Beckford, the new principal at Fort Foote Elementary, greets new kindergartner Skyler Prue, 5, and gives him a hand as he gets off the bus.Nikiya Harris, above, waits with daughters Lyric, 7, left, and Amore, 5, for Fort Foote Elementary School to open on the first day. Backpacks and school supplies are piled at their feet. Below, as his mother, Tremika Byrd, leads him through the school, kindergartner Cameron Smith, 5, recognizes Dora the Explorer on a backpack.