Jaime Whitfield-Coffen, principal of Tulip Grove Elementary School, gives last-minute instructions before allowing students and their parents inside the newly renovated building on Sept. 4, the first day of school. (Robert Roberts/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Jaime Whitfield-Coffen, principal of Tulip Grove Elementary School in Bowie, Md., gives last-minute instructions before allowing students and their parents inside the newly renovated building on Sept. 4, the first day of school. (Robert Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Juanita Poole smiled Tuesday when she peeked inside her new second-grade classroom at Tulip Grove Elementary in Bowie after the school’s recent $26 million renovation.

About 13 miles away at Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Bryce Awono hoped his junior year will help prepare him to study law or technology in college.

“I’m glad to be back in school and ready for a rigorous year in the IB program,” said Bryce, 16, who also serves as the student member on the Maryland State Board of Education. “I want to have an impactful year and also inspire my peers because high school can either be the best four years of your life or the worst four years of your life.”

The more than 134,000 students in the Prince George’s County Public Schools system was among thousands of other Maryland students who began the new school year Tuesday.

Tulip Grove Elementary Principal Jaime Whitfield-Coffen (right) leads a tour of the renovated school with Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (left) and Prince George’s public schools interim CEO Monica Goldson. (Robert Roberts/The Washington Informer)

Maryland joined its neighbors in Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia, where students also headed back to school.

Some educators consider the first day of school an unofficial “national holiday.”

“It unlocks new beginnings for children,” Tulip Grove Principal Jaime Whitfield-Coffen said before the 350 students walked inside a refurbished state-of-the-art building. “No matter what happened last year, or the summer, the first day of school is always an opportunity to start new.”

As for the overall school system, updates for the 2018-19 school year include:

• $3 million in new smart boards, iPads and other technology.
• $1 million shifted from the central office to the schools.
• 20 more schools to incorporate arts integration.
• 15,000 backpacks for underserved students.

Prince George’s also has an interim CEO in Monica Goldson, a county native with 27 years of experience in the school system. She visited various schools throughout the opening day, starting Tuesday morning with a school bus ride to Tulip Grove with students and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland).

Goldson also visited Parkdale and planned to have lunch at Dr. Henry H. Wise High School in Upper Marlboro, where she worked as the school’s inaugural principal. She was scheduled to finish her day at District Heights Elementary.

Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, another county native who won the Democratic nomination for county executive in June, joined Goldson at Tulip Grove and Parkdale.

Both Black women also signify two of the county’s most high-profile leaders, a combination Alsobrooks admitted not seen in Prince George’s, even in the majority-Black jurisdiction.

“It is something different,” Alsobrooks said. “We are excited to have the kids see this leadership, and the principal of this school is a woman of color. This is definitely a special day.”

Heat, Politics Mar Day 1

While children greeted their friends and teachers at schools and parents posted #firstdayofschool pictures of smiles, hugs and high-fives on social media, some of the state’s nearly 900,000 public school students couldn’t enjoy the day.

School officials announced 10 schools in Baltimore County didn’t open Tuesday and at least 60 schools in Baltimore City closed early because of Tuesday’s high temperatures that exceeded 90 degrees and lack of air conditioning.

Prince George’s announced schools would close two hours early Wednesday due to the heat, and Goldson said officials would reassess the situation before Thursday.

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ben Jealous led a press conference with six students Tuesday afternoon outside Baltimore City College High School to express concern and disappointment in not being able to have a full day of school.

The students mentioned how a Baltimore school that didn’t have heat last year now goes without air conditioning in the summer — problematic with temperatures expected to remain in the 90s through Thursday, Sep. 6.

The students demanded more money for toward education, including for recent recommendations made by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. The group, also known as the Kirwan Commission, was scheduled to meet Wednesday, Sept. 5.

“Our schools deserve to be invested in — not through vouchers, but through public schools,” said Olivia Cruz, a 10th-grader at Baltimore City College. “We are calling on [Gov. Larry Hogan] to send a $300 million aid package to Baltimore City public schools. How can we install air conditioning when our schools are currently underfunded?”

Meanwhile, Hogan announced Tuesday an executive order to create an Office of Education Accountability, which will oversee items such as grading requirements, budgets and child abuse.

Persons can submit anonymous tips online through a school survey form at https://governor.maryland.gov/school-survey-form. Responses won’t be conducted until Sept. 12, the same day the office’s new director, Valerie Radomsky, a former Baltimore County public school teacher, takes the reins.

Hogan also plans to introduce legislation in next year’s Maryland General Assembly for a state education inspector general that would operate as an independent unit of the state Department of Education. According to the proposal, it would investigate complaints of unethical and illegal conduct in schools and hold hearings.

“Our children cannot and should not have to wait until the legislature returns to Annapolis in January,” the Republican governor said. “They deserve action, beginning right now.”

The Maryland Democratic Party responded with a statement citing a 2016 state education report on how schools are underfunded by nearly $3 billion annually. The Kirwan Commission said it could possibly cost that much to increase teacher salaries, implement full-day prekindergarten for 4-year-olds and other initiatives.

The party also criticized Hogan for a plan two years ago to cut $30 million in new education spending on after-school programs, college preparation and teacher retention strategies.

“Larry Hogan has no vision and no plan to improve public schools,” Democratic chairwoman Kathleen Matthews said in a statement. “Instead he puts the blame on local school boards and produces misleading political ads. Maryland schools don’t need a political investigator who answers to Larry Hogan. They need adequate funding.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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