Shortly after 7 a.m., Martin Luther King High School in East Germantown welcomed students from Germantown High, which had closed, to the sounds of prayer and singing.
As students began arriving for the first day of classes at King, they were greeted by about 100 parents, church leaders, politicians, and community volunteers linking arms, praying for peace, and singing hymns.
"It's going to be a quiet day today at Martin Luther King because we said so," said the Rev. Alyn Waller of Enon Tabernacle Church to a chorus of amens.
The will of the people and a higher power notwithstanding, it was not an entirely quiet day. A few scuffles were reported.
Elsewhere, there were surprises. In a district that tries to not let class sizes exceed the low 30s, one teacher tweeted after discovering she had 34 to 41 children in her classes: "Hard to feel ready for this." Educators at the district's schools in Feltonville displayed lists showing the staffers and programs that had been cut. And members of the Philadelphia Student Union said some high school students' schedules were wrong and the only person they could turn to for help was their principal.
Parents and laid-off employees pitched in as volunteers to help with opening day at many schools. At Northeast High, principal Linda Carroll said friends and family helped. With nearly 3,100 students - including more than 50 who registered Monday - Northeast is the largest school in the city.
"We're running around literally trying to fill in the gaps where we can," Carroll said at day's end. "I survived. It was tough. You do what you have to do."
Hite said he was grateful the day had gone relatively well, and credited staff who, in some cases, had performed the jobs of four people to prepare schools for opening.
"Where there were hiccups, they were consistent with what typically happens on first days," Hite said, including confusion over bus routes and rosters.
In a handful of classrooms where rosters had swelled to about 40, the district sent more teachers.
Meanwhile, inside district headquarters on North Broad Street, staffers in the School Opening Command Center began arriving at 7:30 a.m. to field questions from principals and help them resolve problems they encountered.
The district has operated the center at the start of classes in recent years, but because of the tumult of staff cuts and school closings over the summer, it opened for two extra days last week.
Deirdre Darragh, a district spokeswoman, said that early effort seemed to have helped.
The 60 incoming calls included a request for 35 desks at Fitzpatrick, an elementary school in the Northeast. Penrose Elementary in Eastwick wanted to know the status of its two art teachers.
Masterman's principal had questions about a support aide who had been expected at the magnet school for fifth through 12th graders on Spring Garden Street. And West Philadelphia High asked for help for two Arabic-speaking teens.
Hite, who visited several schools, said that ideally the city's schools should be discussing issues such as ensuring a variety of course offerings and making sure students are engaged in learning, instead of using terms such as functional and adequate.
"We cannot allow the city, the state, the School District, or anybody else to think that this is normal," he said at South Philadelphia High School. "Because children now are in schools that still need additional resources. And it's really important for us, during the course of this year, to make sure those resources are returned to us."
In addition to seeking more money from the city and the state, Hite has said he wants $103 million in savings via contract concessions from the 15,000-member Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
The district and the PFT continued their contract negotiations Monday.
Jerry Jordan, PFT president, said talks started later in the day because he, too, was visiting schools.
Jordan said he was concerned to find that Powell Elementary in Powelton Village had access to only one counselor, who, because of budget cuts, is also working with six other schools. He said the Academy at Palumbo in South Philadelphia had just one counselor for 800 students.
At Franklin Learning Center in Spring Garden, the union leader said, some students who had signed up for health-related technology classes were moved to other courses because there simply were not enough teachers.
"These are just a few examples of the many instances of confusion and frustration brought on by depleted staffing levels in our schools," Jordan said.
But he said he had also observed enthusiasm: "I saw teachers and school staff excited to see the children coming through the door, despite the administrative chaos and confusion that this budget crisis has thrust upon them."
Mayor Nutter joined Hite at South Philadelphia High School, whose enrollment roughly doubled when the school absorbed 600 students from Bok Technical High School, which was one of the sites that closed in June.
He and Hite bought salads from the cafeteria and ate lunch with students to see for themselves how the school was handling the changes.
"I'm excited that we've gotten here, to the first day of school," Nutter said. "And, you know, certainly everybody recognizes we've had some challenges leading up to this first day."
The mayor said that space was not the challenge at South Philadelphia High. "Funding is the challenge," he said.
He called on Gov. Corbett to develop a new system for school funding. "You can't balance the budgets on the backs of students and teachers and administrators," Nutter said.
Charles Zogby, the governor's budget secretary, issued a statement lauding the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, Hite, and Nutter "for doing everything in their power to open schools as scheduled on Monday with sufficient, however limited, resources. The district's teachers deserve special thanks as well, not only for their tireless commitment to Philadelphia's students, but in readying classrooms for opening day under the current circumstances."
Zogby also took the occasion to repeat Corbett's call for the PFT to agree to contract concessions and work-rule changes that could save the district tens of millions of dollars. Thanks to legislation passed this summer, the administration's education secretary has to certify that the district has launched sufficient savings and "reforms" before it can obtain a $45 million state grant.
Contact Martha Woodall at 215-854-2789 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writers Melissa Dribben and Susan Snyder contributed to this article.