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Focus on buses, new schools as Boston kicks off school year

Teacher Lynda Murad handed out name tags for her Grade 1 students on the first day of classes at the Ellis Elementary School in Roxbury.

David L Ryan / Globe Staff

Teacher Lynda Murad handed out name tags for her Grade 1 students on the first day of classes at the Ellis Elementary School in Roxbury.

As the school buses rolled up Thursday at the Ellis Elementary School in Roxbury, Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Superintendent Carol R. Johnson were watching closely.

Boston public schools struggled with bus tardiness last year, and officials redesigned the transportation routes for this year to give drivers more time.

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The results at the Ellis looked promising Thursday: More than half the buses arrived at the school early, said Matthew Wilder, a spokesman for the school district.

For the superintendent’s reaction, one had only to look to Twitter, where Johnson launched an account Thursday morning.

“Great to be at the Ellis here in Roxbury to see all these smiling faces returning for a great school year,” Johnson wrote.

The revamped bus routes and Twitter account are new additions to the system this year.

The school district also launched a universal free breakfast program — the subject of a later tweet from the superintendent.

And the city opened two new schools Thursday: the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School in Roxbury, and the Margarita Muniz Academy in Jamaica Plain, the state’s first dual-language high school.

The system is also using an online portal to encourage closer communication between parents and their schools.

“It’s a stronger connection between parents, families, and schools than we’ve ever had before,” Johnson said in an afternoon interview.

The 57,000 students enrolled in Boston schools this year represent a slight increase for the district, Wilder said.

School officials expanded enrollment capacity at several of the district’s most popular schools, he said.

He also said more parents were sending their children to kindergarten in the district this school year.

“We’re doing a lot to really change our schools, and I think parents are responding to that,” Wilder said.

Despite the encouraging signs from the first day, the system does not plan to prepare on-time statistics for its buses until next week. Officials are prepared for transportation “hiccups” typical of the beginning of the school year, Wilder said.

The superintendent said she felt energized for the school year from her visits to five schools Thursday.

She also urged parents and students to focus on strong attendance this year. “There’s nothing more important than our students coming every day and taking advantage of our quality education,” she said.

Adam Sege can be reached at adam.sege@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter@AdamSege.
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