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Teacher Justin Jones beamed Wednesday as students filed into Park Hall Elementary School.

Many children were returning to the school for a new year to see their friends and meet their teachers. But about 120 were venturing into new territory as kindergartners.

Jones is also new to Park Hall Elementary. He is starting his first year teaching with St. Mary’s public schools. He taught for two years in North Carolina before landing a gig teaching special education at Park Hall.

“I was just blown away by the welcomeness of the school” when he first interviewed for the job this summer, Jones said. “I still get that same calm and peaceful feeling, a kind of safe feeling. I think that’s really good for the kids.”

Jones said Wednesday morning he had looked over paperwork describing the strengths and challenges of his 11 students, and was now looking forward to meeting each child in person. “I’m excited to work with them,” he said later that day, after meeting his students.

Jones was one of about 110 teachers new to St. Mary’s public schools, joining a staff of educators welcoming about 18,000 students to the first day of the new school year.

“It was an extremely smooth opening, like a well-oiled machine,” Superintendent Martirano said Thursday morning.

He said there were some calls to the transportation department about bus issues. Those issues will be worked out in the coming days, he said, but most buses arrived on time to pick up children.

On Thursday morning, the second day of school, a bus ran off Route 235 near Airport View Drive in Hollywood while trying to turn around. Buses to and from Evergreen Elementary School have been rerouted for the first few days of school as construction work on Wildewood Parkway continued, closing part of the road to through traffic. No injuries were reported to the 37 children on board the bus, according to school officials

Martirano and school, county and state elected officials visited schools Wednesday morning, including Spring Ridge Middle School.

Crews were able to repair and clean four of nine damaged rooms within a few days after an April fire caused by a faulty heating and air-conditioning wall unit at Spring Ridge. The remaining five needed extensive repairs, which were completed just in time for the first day of school.

“All of the rooms are up,” Principal Angela Fulp said.

School officials began pushing for a full renovation to the school, using the fire as a wakeup call. Martirano on Wednesday praised the county commissioners for quickly committing $10 million, about half of the total project cost. State school officials and local legislators have vowed to make the renovation happen. School officials will officially seek state approval in the coming months.

“We’re hopeful that all this will come together,” Martirano said.

“We want to make sure you’re ready for college and careers,” Martirano told a room full of eighth-grade students.

Sen. Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert) said his office gave out about $130,000 in scholarships last year through Maryland’s legislative scholarship program. “That money is there for you,” he said, urging the students to study hard in school. “What you do here will count in three or four years from now ... Do your best.”

Martirano said that new teachers spent time during the last week working with veteran teachers, with ideas flowing both directions. Martirano said during the last few years the new crop of teachers come to St. Mary’s public schools with knowledge on technology and teaching techniques that even longtime teachers can learn from.

Abigail MacLean-Blevins graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s master’s program for teachers earlier this year and landed a job at Spring Ridge as a sixth-grade math teacher.

“It was a very busy and very fun day,” she said of her first day of school. “There’s a lot going on.”

Because all of her students were also new to the school as sixth-graders, MacLean-Blevins spent a good part of the day answering questions about procedures and where certain places were in the building. By Thursday, she said, students were already adjusting to their new school.

There have been some changes in school leadership this year. Curtis Alston took over as principal of Lexington Park Elementary School after Susie Fowler took a job as the elementary accountability officer at the school system’s central office.

Janet Fowler is now principal at Margaret Brent Middle School; former principal Mike Egan now works as the supervisor of instruction for career and technology education.

Wendy Zimmerman, academic dean at Fairlead II, will temporarily fill in for Leonardtown High School Principal Maureen Montgomery starting at the end of August for about six weeks while Montgomery takes medical leave, Martirano said.

Back at Park Hall on Wednesday morning, Principal Kathy Norton stood at the front doors with teachers and other staff to help usher more than 600 students into the building. Many went to the cafeteria in a kind of controlled chaos, where teachers called out the names of their students before leading groups away to classrooms.

Parents who entered the building after the first bell were reassured by teachers that their children were in good hands. Many others simply gave their children a quick hug and sent them off for their first day back to school.

“He’s not nervous at all. He was up and ready to go early this morning,” Victoria Savage said Wednesday morning of her son, first-grader Terrell Adams. She said she is hoping to find an after-school program for him.

Some returning students and parents quickly noticed the school had a fresh paint job throughout the halls and classrooms.

Norton said that in the days leading up to school about 35 new fifth-grade students attended leadership council training. This is the second year for the program, which helps the students discover ways to act as peer mediators to de-escalate arguments between other students.

“It’s been really powerful for the kids,” Norton said.

jyeatman@somdnews.com