Anne Arundel County Public Schools’ nearly 6,000 classroom teachers returned from their summer break this week and, along with their co-workers, are completing preparations to greet and support the more than 79,000 students who are set to begin the 2014-2015 school year next week.
While newly-appointed Superintendent of Schools George Arlotto is a familiar face to many AACPS students, staff, and parents, he is excited to share his more than 28 years – eight in AACPS – of experience in the effort to lead county schools to even higher levels of success.
“We are a collective of caring, committed educators – children are our focus,” Dr. Arlotto said earlier this year when he was appointed by the Board of Education. “I am delighted to have the opportunity to facilitate and guide our system toward achieving access, equity, and excellence for all of our students.”
Adding to its extensive list of programs of choice, the school system will open the county’s second middle school Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) magnet program at Lindale Middle School this year. The county’s first contract school, Monarch Global Academy Public Contract School, in Laurel, which features the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, will also open next week.
Anne Arundel school populations: still growing…
With another year of significant increase in student enrollment, AACPS remains one of Maryland’s fastest growing public school systems. Data from the Maryland Department of Planning shows AACPS as the third-fastest growing system between now and 2022, when more than 700 additional students are estimated to enroll in schools here. AACPS is currently Maryland’s fifth largest school system with a projected 79,237 students this year.
Policy and regulation changes
School employees, parents, and students will find significant changes to the policies and regulations regarding student discipline this year. The changes are largely to bring AACPS into alignment and compliance with newly revised state requirements and guidelines that aim to keep students in school and engaged in the learning environment. Such a shift in discipline culture helps to reduce the number of long-term, out-of-school suspensions for non-violent incidents, eliminate disproportionate suspensions of minority students and students with disabilities, and ensure that all students receive appropriate educational services during suspensions or expulsion within identified timelines for the disciplinary process.
Staggered start for students
With the exception of eight schools that will open a day late because of construction, the first day of classes for students in first through fifth, sixth, and ninth grades will be Monday, August 25. The staggered openings of secondary schools will give sixth- and ninth-graders a chance to get acclimated to their new surroundings before the remaining students return to class on Tuesday, August 26.
Kindergarten, prekindergarten students, and ECI students will also start school on a staggered schedule. Parents will receive their child’s actual start date at their parent-teacher conference.
Planned construction projects will delay the opening of eight county schools. The following schools will open to students on Tuesday, August 26, so that teachers will have an additional day to set up classrooms and prepare for instruction:
● Annapolis Elementary
● Annapolis High
● Benfield Elementary
● Crofton Elementary
● Magothy River Middle
● Mills-Parole Elementary
● Severn River Middle
● West Annapolis Elementary
Staggered start schedules at these schools will be moved by one day to accommodate the late opening.
In addition to the above schools, Central Special School, Marley Glen Special School, and Ruth Parker Eason Special School will open for students on Tuesday, August 26. Parent conferences at those three schools will take place on Monday, August 25.
New, different places
West Annapolis Elementary School students will spend the next two years in a temporary location – Annapolis Middle School – while their 58-year-old facility undergoes a nearly $22 million modernization project. In addition, Lothian Elementary School students will be housed at Southern Middle School for the second consecutive year as construction continues on a $32.7 million replacement school.
Students and staff at Annapolis Elementary School, who had been housed at Annapolis Middle School for the last two years, will return to their Green Street home in downtown Annapolis. The revitalized $28.8 million facility will be equipped with video-linked security systems, climbing walls in the gymnasium, fully-equipped computer labs, interactive white boards in every classroom, and nearly double the square footage.
Students at Monarch Global Academy and Lindale Middle School will be wearing uniforms this year, bringing the number of schools with uniforms in the county to 22.
Security reminder for visitors to schools
County schools are equipped with A/I phones which allow office personnel to communicate with visitors to determine the nature of their visit before allowing admittance to the school office. Parents, community members, school system employees, and others planning to visit schools are reminded that AACPS security procedures require all visitors to show a government issued identification card (such as a driver’s license) to be admitted into a school. The ID card is scanned through a system that cross-references visitors against sexual offender databases.
Visitors must not hold the front door of a school open to allow other visitors not in their party into a school.
Emergency drills at schools
During each school year, various drills are conducted at every school to ensure that staff and students are prepared in the event of an emergency. These drills include monthly fire and emergency evacuation drills.
In addition five drills with scenarios developed by the school system’s Office of School Security and based upon various possible emergency situations are done each year. These include, but are not limited to: evacuation for natural gas emergencies; shelter for tornado and earthquake; shelter for outside hazardous materials release; lockout for danger outside of the school building; reverse evacuation back into the school for students and staff outside; and lockdown for a person with a weapon inside of the school.
These drills are discussed with staff prior to the drill, and evaluated once the drill is complete. In some cases, the drills may be discussed with students before they take place.
Fueled up and ready to go
This year, nearly 652,000 hours will be spent driving more than 700 buses over 10.1 million miles to transport students to and from schools. On a daily basis, nearly 57,800 students use county school transportation services.
Bus services are offered to students living outside designated walking areas at each school. Prekindergarten and kindergarten students who live greater than one-half mile from school, elementary school students who live greater than one mile from school, and middle and high school students who live greater than one-and-one-half miles from school receive transportation services.
Routine bus evacuation drills will be conducted throughout the school year.
School bus schedules are posted online and are also available at all schools.
Fuel for achievement
For the first time in three years, prices of school meals will increase by 15 cents. School breakfasts will cost $1.50 this year, with lunches at elementary and secondary schools costing $2.75 and $3.00, respectively. At all schools, reduced-price breakfast is free and reduced-price lunch is 40 cents. The cost of milk will remain at 55 cents per bottle.
In addition to unlimited choices of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, AACPS offers a variety of meal options to ensure students are properly fueled for the school day. Forty-four schools – five more than a year ago – will offer free breakfast to all students as part of the Maryland Meals for Achievement program. Seven schools will allow students to purchase breakfast and eat with teachers and peers in the classroom as part of the Breakfast with Class program. In addition, almost two dozen schools will serve free early evening meals to students through a federally-funded initiative aimed at supporting good nutrition and combating youth hunger. The school system also served more than 100,000 meals to young people this summer.
Students who wish to apply for free or reduced-price meals must complete a new SY2014-2015 Meal Benefit Application. Applications are accepted throughout the school year and are now available online at https://applyformeals.aacps.org/ .
For the sixth straight year, AACPS is utilizing an enhanced computer system, MyPaymentsPlus, to make meal purchases faster and easier. Students whose parents deposit money into an account can use their six-digit student identification number to make purchases. Parents can register to receive emails when balances are low, and can monitor their child’s purchases. Questions about the prepayment programs should be directed to the school a child attends.
AACPS menus will feature additional healthy options for all students. Choices include additional fresh fruits and vegetables, more whole grain options, and more lean protein and low-fat dairy options.
Last year, AACPS served nearly 5 million lunches and 2.7 million breakfasts in schools. The system receives no county funds to operate lunch and breakfast programs. Revenue for the program comes from federal reimbursements (54 percent), food sales (43 percent), and state funding (3 percent).
Communication with parents continues to expand
AACPS continues to expand the ways in which it communicates with parents and students, with more than 100 county schools now using Twitter pages. The school system’s automated notification system, Connect-ED, is also linked to these pages, providing yet another outlet of information for parents.
Notices of emergency closings and delays
Changes to school schedules caused by inclement weather or other emergency conditions are announced through Connect-ED via telephone, email, and text message; posted on the school system’s website (www.aacps.org), Facebook page (www.facebook.com/aacps), and Twitter page (www.twitter.com/AACountySchools); and broadcast on major area radio and television stations, including AACPS-TV (Channel 96 on Comcast and Broadstripe, and Channel 36 on Verizon). Such notices are also posted on school Twitter pages.
In addition, announcements are posted (and parents may sign up for email alerts) on the School’s Out website (www.schoolsout.com).
The Board of Education has a new face this year, Student Member Ayesha Chaudhry. The South River High School senior is the 41st student to serve on the Board, and the only one on a local Board in the nation with full voting rights. She was appointed to a one-year term in July by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The resignation of Andrew Pruski, who is running for the District 4 seat on the County Council, leaves the Board with eight members. The vacancy created by Mr. Pruski’s departure will be filled by the next governor.
There also are new principals at 24 schools across the county. Thirteen of those schools – Southern High School; MacArthur Middle School; Ruth Parker Eason School; Belle Grove, Cape St. Claire, Maryland City, North Glen, Overlook, Pershing Hill, Rolling Knolls, Seven Oaks, Southgate, and South Shore elementary schools – will be led by first-year principals. Belvedere, Bodkin, Broadneck, Brock Bridge, Crofton Meadows, Edgewater, Germantown, Marley, Mayo, Tracey’s elementary schools as well as the J. Albert Adams Academy also have new principals who have moved from other county schools or offices.
In addition, more than 600 new teachers, at least 129 of who are AACPS graduates, are eager to welcome students.
Board meetings on TV and website; Board votes online
Meetings of the Board of Education, which occur on the first and third Wednesdays of most months, are broadcast live on AACPS-TV, which will begin high-definition programming in September. Comcast and Broadstripe subscribers can find the programming on Channel 96, while Verizon subscribers can find it on Channel 36. Meetings are rebroadcast at 6 p.m. the day after the meeting and 2 p.m. on subsequent Sundays.
Archived videos of Board meetings can be found online at www.aacps.org/boardvideos.
Voting records of Board members are categorized by meeting date and can be found online at www.aacps.org by clicking on the Board of Education tab and then on the Board Voting Record link.