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As summer vacation nears its end, parents begin the annual tradition of shopping for school supplies while teachers and other education staff ready schools for the first day on Aug. 21.

“All the schools are abuzz right now,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said Wednesday.

Most St. Mary’s public schools will hold open houses next Monday or Tuesday. Teachers began returning this week for training and to organize their classrooms for the coming school year.

“We hired another year of top-notch teachers,” Martirano said. About 110 teachers who are new to St. Mary’s public schools attended training and information seminars Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week before being joined by returning teachers Thursday to continue in-service training and ready their rooms.

Martirano said the best gift to give students is to put a great teacher in front of them in the classroom.

Schools have put out lists of supplies on their websites for parents. “We have had a standardized supply list for elementary schools for several years,” Kelly Hall, executive director of elementary schools and Title I, said.

Teachers are able to add up to two items and delete as many items as they want from the standardized lists, she said.

Hall said school officials recently shopped for the items and came up with an average price of $60, about $20 higher than when the standardized list was originally conceived. Those price totals do include a new book bag, which is not necessarily needed every year, she said.

Principals and teachers are doing what they can to keep the overall cost of required supplies as affordable as possible, she said. And there is help available from schools’ parent organizations for families who have trouble affording school supplies.

Martirano said that last year the student services department was able to buy 366 pairs of shoes for students from the St. Mary’s Shoe Fund. So far this year students services workers have purchased 131 pairs, at a cost of $2,870, he said, adding that 100 percent of money donated to the shoe fund goes to buying shoes for children.

The school system is also assisting with a “stuff the bus” campaign to collect donated school supplies; a bus will be parked in front of Walmart this weekend.

Spring Ridge repairs, bus stop changes in the works

The superintendent and school board members toured newly renovated classrooms Wednesday at Spring Ridge Middle School that were repaired this summer after an April fire caused by a faulty heating and air-conditioning unit in one classroom.

That work will be paid for by an insurance fund through the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

“We’re really excited that those rooms are clean and ready for teachers and students,” Principal Angela Fulp said.

Nine classrooms were damaged from the fire, five extensively. All will be back up and running in time for the first day next Wednesday.

The school is still waiting for some supplies, like beakers and other equipment for the science labs, but generally the rooms are complete, Fulp said. An industrial hygienist has been checking on the rooms periodically and has said everything looks good, the principal said Wednesday.

Workers also replaced the gymnasium floor this summer at Spring Ridge and plan to install new bleachers and lighting.

“It just looks bigger,” Fulp said of the shiny new wood floor. About $240,000 in state money through an aging-schools grant will pay for the gym renovation.

An extensive renovation at Spring Ridge will give the front of the school a face-lift and rid the interior of the remnants of the open classroom pod design; work is planned to begin next April. Work will be done in phases as some students are moved to portable classrooms behind the school.

The approximately $19 million renovation, which is similar to the work done two years ago at Leonardtown Middle School, is expected to be done by December 2015.

“You’ve really given Spring Ridge ... a beautiful identity,” board member Cathy Allen said Wednesday as the board looked at design plans.

Esperanza Middle School will see work done this year in the rear of the building where a serious erosion problem is eating away at an athletic field. Repairs are also scheduled for cracks in two basketball courts and two tennis courts at the school.

Parents and students may notice a few changes to bus transportation this year, including adjustments to some elementary bus stops. The transportation department made changes to high school bus stops and then middle school stops during the last two years to save money and time by adhering more closely to bus policy.

This year, elementary routes will be adjusted to reduce mileage and time.

The bus policy states high school and middle school students may have to walk up to a mile and elementary students up to half a mile to a stop. There is still a procedure for parents to request changes to routes, but now there would need to be extenuating circumstances for such exceptions, Jeff Thompson, director of transportation, said.

He said his department has begun receiving some complaints from parents concerned with the new stops, and that transportation staff are working on each case.

“Our call center is open,” he said.

School buses will go on dry runs Aug. 19 to drive actual bus routes during the times they will run once school actually starts.

Bus drivers are also operating under new rules that require buses to stay in the travel lane when picking up or dropping off students in St. Mary’s County. No longer will they pull onto the shoulder as students board or exit, although they can pull over to let other vehicles pass if it is deemed safe.

To help

For more information about the shoe fund or to contribute, contact the Department of Student Services of St. Mary’s public schools at 301-475-5511, ext. 32150. Contributions can be mailed to St. Mary’s County Public Schools’ Shoe Fund, 23160 Moakley St., Leonardtown, MD 20650. Checks should be payable to St. Mary’s public schools’ Shoe Fund.

jyeatman@somdnews.com