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May 31, 2007

Scholarship season

Among the many students who are reaping the financial rewards of good grades, 18 Baltimore County teens recently won scholarships worth $1,000 each from the Comcast Foundation’s Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program, which recognizes students’ leadership skills, academic achievement and commitment to community service.

Scholarships also were awarded to students from Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Wicomico and Worcester counties. Click below to see a complete list of scholarship recipients.

In Baltimore County, scholarship winners are:
  • Abby Buresh of Towson High School — plans to attend University of Virginia
  • Allison Leonard of Notre Dame Preparatory School — undecided
  • Andrew Stershic of Dulaney High School — plans to attend University of Maryland College Park
  • Conor Sanders of The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland Inc. — undecided
  • Elliot Teichman of Owings Mills High School — undecided
  • Gerald Connor of Lansdowne High School — plans to attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania
  • Jacqueline Knauer of Overlea High School — plans to attend Towson State University
  • Josef Parker of Parkville High School — plans to attend Boston University
  • Joseph Sauthoff of Perry Hall High School — plans to attend Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
  • Katherine Hauser of Kenwood High School — plans to attend Villa Julie College
  • Kent Strader of St. Paul’s School — plans to attend Georgetown University
  • Kurt Yalcin of Loch Raven High School — undecided
  • Lauren Schuster of Yeshivat Rambam Maimonides Academy — plans to attend Yeshiva University
  • Lisa Holzman of Franklin High School — plans to attend Penn State University Park
  • Maria Zilberman of George Washington Carver Center for Arts & Technology — undecided
  • Maya Goldberg of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School — plans to attend Tulane University
  • Modoluwamu Fatukasi of New Town High School — plans to attend the Johns Hopkins University
  • Molly Wright of The Catholic High School of Baltimore — plans to attend College of Notre Dame of Maryland
  • Rebecca Mezzanotte of Patapsco High School — plans to attend American University
  • RobertThomas of Calvert Hall College High School — undecided
  • Russell Fisher of Redeemer Classical Christian School — undecided
  • Samuel Althauser of Park School of Baltimore — plans to attend Carleton College
  • Sarah Dobson of Catonsville High School — plans to attend University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Shannon Pijanowski of Dundalk High School — undecided
  • Sherika McPherson of Woodlawn High School — plans to attend American University
  • Sherri Evelyn of Sollers Point Technical High School — plans to attend Villa Julie College
  • Stephanie Dehaven of Western School of Technology — plans to attend Maine Maritime Academy
Posted by Gina Davis at 11:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Chigger chatter

One of the best parts about being a newspaper reporter is getting to learn about something new every day. Yesterday, I learned about chiggers.

Truth be told, I'd never heard of these tiny, six-legged mites (thank you, Google) before they infested Violetville Elementary School this past week. Now, I know all about how they can get under your skin and make you itch like crazy. (Not from firsthand experience, though. This was one story where on-scene reporting seemed above and beyond the call of duty, especially since the school had been evacuated.) Fortunately, none of the kids who had to leave school early reported being bitten, either. They get another day off today, while the exterminators are hard at work.

As it turns out, it's pretty rare to find chiggers in a city. Most of the Baltimore school officials I talked to hadn't heard of the things, either. They like to grow in woody places and Violetville, near the county line, happens to be located next to woods. 

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 30, 2007

Education Spotlight

Hortense Adams

Hortense Adams has been a sixth grade teacher at Deerfield Run Elementary School in Prince George’s County for 26 years. She received the Christa McAuliffe Outstanding Teacher Award in the county this year.

Deerfield’s principal, Thomas Tucker, nominated her for the educator spotlight.

Here is what he said:

Mrs. Adams is any school’s treasure. She teaches children at a high level and in a caring, nurturing, structured learning environment. She is a master teacher in the truest sense of the word. She has theHortense Adams / Contributed Photo skills to teach any child, but she also has the gift of reaching into a child’s heart to make him or her believe in themselves.

Mrs. Adams spends countless hours with her students. At lunch time, planning time or recess you will find her with a group of students or with an individual student giving the help only a gifted teacher can offer. Ms. Adams never accepts excuses for why students can’t learn. In fact, the word "can't" is not a part of her vocabulary. Over the years she has turned students around that everyone else had given up on.

Mrs. Adams feels she represents all those exceptional teachers in our county when she says, "Being a teacher is probably one of the most honorable and noble professions. We are training young people and training them to be what they want to be. I guess that’s why I’ve been teaching for so long. There is nothing like being a teacher."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Healthy habits

Looking to lead a healthier life? Just ask Samantha Youngblood, Stephen Harlee, Shakearra Richardson and Mayia Mackey how. These city kids are the winners of the Harbor Hospital/Harbor Hospital Foundation essay contest, "What can I do to stay healthy?"

Shakearra, a seventh-grader at Arundel Elementary/Middle, advises keeping a good attitude: "Many times negative feelings affect your health and weight. Sometimes, people overeat or do not eat when they are upset. If something is bothering me, I keep a journal and write down my thoughts. I also call my best friend and talk it out with her." 

Samantha, a junior at New Era Academy, is committed to fighting heart disease, which killed her mother in October 2004. "This is so important to me because my mother died of one of the leading diseases of women today," she wrote. "Heart disease is something my family in particular goes through.... Being healthy to me means no more deaths in the family and no more pain weighing down many people's hearts. Because if I am alive, well and happy, I am able to stay strong for my family."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:59 PM | | Comments (0)

May 29, 2007

Education Q&A

Across the nation, urban school systems are turning to local universities to help them reform low-performing schools. This week, we explore a new partnership between the Baltimore City Public School System and Towson University to turn around five elementary/middle schools: Cherry Hill, Patapsco, Arundel, Carter Woodson and Morrell Park. Towson has been involved in running Morrell Park this school year. The new oversight for all five schools will begin this summer.

Answering reader and Sun staff questions about the partnership are: Raymond Lorion, dean of Towson's College of Education; Jeffrey Grotsky, a former city schools official who now oversees the partnerships for Towson; and Linda Chinnia, the school system's chief academic officer. Lorion and Chinnia will co-chair a new governing board overseeing the five schools. Several education non-profits have signed on as partners in the effort, to provide services ranging from after-school and summer school programs to literacy and math training for teachers.  

Q: What changes can families and staff at the five partnership schools expect to see in the 2007-2008 academic year?

A: All elements of the curriculum across pre-kindergarten through eighth grade will be coordinated and consistent across the five schools, and will comply with the state's voluntary curriculum standards and the city school system's curriculum. Teachers and support staff will participate in a planned sequence of professional development experiences to enhance the quality and effectiveness of their instruction. They will be trained in June in "professional learning communities" (working collaboratively with colleagues to enhance student learning) and become members of a professional learning community. With the expertise provided to these five schools by the partners, we expect to have detailed information about each child's educational needs and will work to obtain and apply the supplemental activities needed to optimize each child's learning. We expect to hold regular information sessions for parents so they understand the reasons for the learning approaches we will use and so they can help us to understand what supports they (the parents) need to support the learning process. There will be opportunities for parents and community members to help develop programs and participate in the schools on an regular basis.

We also expect that year one will be somewhat of a development year with increased efficiency and effectiveness with each passing year; however, we expect to see significant gains in achievement in all five schools. By year two, teachers and principals will have worked together in the professional learining community, and we will see greater gains and expect to develop stronger parent support and increasing levels of parent involvement.

Q: One reader wrote in asking if Towson "is making a profit running city schools." What compensation, if any, will the university receive? And how will the university benefit from the partnership?

A: The University Partner Schools will actually be operated by a governing board with Towson University as its fiscal agent. The governing board will receive funding from the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) as well as other sources (e.g., the Maryland State Department of Education, private foundations) to support services provided to the schools. In most cases, Towson must commit "in-kind" support to receive funds. In other words, Towson will be dontating the services of some of its faculty and staff as well as the involvement of its students. During the 2006-2007 academic year, for example, Towson donated more than 100 desk-top computers to University Partner Schools.

The university will benefit because the partnership provides an opportunity for Towson to meet its public obligations as Maryland's "Metropolitan University." It also provides opportunities for faculty to learn first-hand the needs of teachers and students in urban schools and to study ways to improve their respective success, and for Towson education students to have carefully supervised experiences in studying and responding to children's educational and developmental needs. With the university's involvment in University Partner Schools, staff will gain first-hand experience in how to enhance the training of teachers in urban schools and make adjustments as appropriate. Having more Towson student interns in the schools raises the chance that new teachers will choose to work in Baltimore City public schools.

Q: How will the funding of the five schools compare with what regular city schools receive, and with what city charters are scheduled to receive under the new funding formula approved by the school board?

A: The University Partner Schools are public city schools and, as such, receive all local, state and federal funds for which city schools are eligible. The schools will also benefit from the additional resources and services provided by the partners and private funders.

Q: Some parents and staff have expressed concerns over the transfers of 49 teachers from the five schools. Can you explain the reason for the staff changes?

A: Teacher transfers were both voluntary (i.e., at the request of the teacher) and involuntary (i.e., at the request of the principal). Personnel decisions were made by the principals in each of the five schools in compliance with the Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) contract and with BCPSS policies. In response to expressed concerns, the chief academic officer (Linda Chinnia) met with the BTU president to confirm that approrpaite procedures were followed. Teachers who wished to have decisions about them reviewed were invited to do so.

Q: How will members of the governing board be selected?

A: The governing board will be chaired by the school system's chief academic officer (Chinnia) and co-chaired by the dean of Towson's College of Education (Lorion). Other members will represent groups including partners, school improvement teams, principals, teachers, parents and community members. Each of these stakeholder groups will select its own representative to the board.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:54 PM | | Comments (0)

May 25, 2007

Principal promoted

Irma E. Johnson, profiled this week by Classroom Connections, is state principal of the year, representing Maryland in the national distinguished principals competition. Only as of this weekend, she won't be a principal anymore.

Johnson has led Dallas F. Nicholas Sr. Elementary for the past decade, turning the school into a bright spot in a violent and impoverished community, a place where children are matching or outperforming their wealthier peers in the suburbs. On Tuesday night, just hours after this blog posted a feature on Johnson, the school board promoted her to be an "area academic officer," overseeing a group of 30 elementary schools, Dallas Nicholas among them. She'll replace Suzanne Cutter, who retired in March. Board documents say Johnson's new position is effective May 26, which would be, um, Saturday.

Promotions are supposed to be a time for celebration, but some education advocates are sad to see Johnson moving on. Principals who produce the kind of results she has are few and far between in a city like Baltimore. Here's hoping her replacement at Dallas Nicholas will sustain the momentum she built.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Which rankings do you believe?

The current issue of Newsweek includes the magazine's annual list of "America's best high schools." And the schools that are on that list have been quick to tout themselves as, well, America's best.

But, as even the study's authors acknowledge, the methodology behind the rankings can be a bit precarious. The rankings measure how many students at a school are taking college-level exams from Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge, presumably indicating the number of students who can handle college-level material. But taking exams doesn't mean passing exams. If a school had all its kids taking A.P. tests, and none of its kids passing, it could still be ranked number one.

Also curious: The magazine, which published the top 100 schools in its print issue and the top 1,200 online, lists whether the schools have made "adequate yearly progress" on the annual standardized tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. And some 20 percent of the top 100 did not. So a school could make the list while simultaneously facing government sanctions for low performance. I know, many schools fail to make AYP based on the scores of a handful of special education students. But the point is, which ranking system is the public to believe? If any at all?

Baltimore City College -- which administers lots of I.B. exams as part of an I.B. program -- was ranked the nation's 246th best high school. Rival Polytechnic Institute, which routinely outscores City on standardized tests, was No. 1,100.

The only Maryland jurisdiction with schools in the top 100 was Montgomery County, where five schools made the grade, and every eligible school in the district made the bigger list. The press release is on the school system's Web site.

In Baltimore County, there was great fanfare two years ago when Pikesville High made the top 100. (It was No. 99.) This year, officials didn't dwell on the fact that Pikesville had fallen to No. 274: Ten county schools have made it in the top 1,200, up from seven in 2005.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0)

Field trip fracas

I've had a lot of feedback on my story Wednesday about year-end field trips being canceled at Dunbar Middle School. Eighth-graders had been excited for months about going to two amusement parks and a beach, but the principal called the plans off after a school system administrator announced that all middle school trips must be educational.

Peter French, a teacher at a city charter school, said the article prompted him to call members of the school board in anger. "How appalling that the people in charge know so little about middle school students," he wrote in an email to me. Susan Nash, a teacher in Rochester, N.Y., suggested that the kids take the trips to the amusement parks, but study the physics of the rides. "An amusement park is a wealth of study material for science," her email said.

Another reader wondered why kids from an elite Baltimore high school, Polytechnic Institute, were allowed to have a bowling and skating trip just before final exams. (The directive for educational trips was only issued to middle schools.)

Reader Louise Phelps wrote: "These kids worked hard for promised trip & should be allowed to go. They cancel school for 1 snow flake -- give me a break. What will the city take away from these kids next????????????" 

Not everyone agreed with her. "Honestly," wrote Tom Rayburn, "I can't believe you would express any concern over 14 year olds being prohibited from going to playtime when school is in session."


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:48 AM | | Comments (0)

May 24, 2007

Hopkins students to dance into city schools

A undergraduate Chinese dance company at Johns Hopkins University is one of six projects awarded a total of $25,000 in the first round of "Arts Innovation" grants, which will be handed out twice-yearly by the Baltimore university, officials said today.

The 5-year-old Hopkins Lion Dance Troupe will use its share to perform in Baltimore city schools, officials said.

Known mostly for its medical school and bookish pre-med undergraduates, Hopkins has been trying in recent years to boost student interest in the arts.   

"It is gratifying to know that new opportunities in the arts will be created for Homewood undergraduates as a result of this program," said Winston Tabb, the university's vice provost for the arts, in the statement.  

The grants announced today will also help fund three new interdisciplinary courses this fall on the college's Homewood campus in Charles Village, officials said. The courses are titled, "The History and Science of Musical Instruments," "Design + Business," and "Image and Text."

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 1:40 PM | | Comments (0)

"100 Strong Male Role Models" update

Life has been a whirlwind for teacher Dean Scott since the days immediately after The Sun published an article I wrote about a once-little-known group at Woodlawn High School, "100 Strong Male Role Models." Dean is the group's adviser who has nurtured the organization into a nationally recognized success story.

Since the article --- Teaching teenagers to live `Strong' ... Successful Woodlawn High male role model program emulated nationwide --- Dean says he has fielded countless calls, been approached about writing a book and interviewed by other news publications about the mentoring and leadership program. Dean, who says he is in serious talks with a publisher, added that he has received so many phone calls from around the country that the school's secretaries have been kidding that he needs his own staff to help manage the deluge. Dozens of educators have been lighting up the school's phone lines in the hopes of getting Dean to come show them how to build a similar program for teens in their own schools.

There's also talk that Dean will spend the next year helping other Baltimore County high schools develop their own versions of "100 Strong Male Role Models."

Meanwhile, the young men in Dean's group at Woodlawn are continuing the work of improving their lives and the world around them. On a recent afternoon, several of them freshened up the garden that they planted last year at the school's main entrance. When they planted the garden last year, some of them worried that the garden wouldn't last because other kids might mess with it. But to their pleasant surprise, they quickly discovered that everyone appreciated their efforts to make things better.

Read more about this exceptional group of young men in The Sun's article.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Teaching teenagers to live `Strong'
Successful Woodlawn High male role model program emulated nationwide

By Gina Davis
Sun reporter
   Matthew Whitehead and Masih Sultani, both 17, used to skip school. Now the Woodlawn High School students are doing so well in class that both have been accepted at several colleges. Aladdin Johnson, 15, had grown content with low C's but now boasts of nearly earning straight A's.

    They are only a few of the examples of how one program has changed the course of some lives at a Baltimore County school with a long history of problems.Woodlawn's "100 Strong Male Role Models" program is so successful that it has begun attracting national interest, as schools from the Northeast and the Midwest seek advice on how to build a student group that gives young men in struggling schools the tools to thrive.

    Students and school leaders from Washington High School in Kansas City, Kan., for example, met with counterparts from Woodlawn High to see how the program works.

    "We've got a lot of kids who are on the fence, who have to decide whether they're going to be tough or grow up to do something worthwhile," said Greg Netzer, principal of Washington High School. "We're hoping that the energy the group from Woodlawn has will be something that gets us going in the right direction."

    Marshall Bennett, an 18-year-old senior at Woodlawn and a member of the group, points to the school's less-than-stellar image, and adds, "We finally have something positive to share."

    Sharing and serving seem to be their specialties. At the beginning of the school year, they sponsored a "Teacher Appreciation" banquet. During Thanksgiving and Christmas, they fed hundreds of families and distributed donated gifts to area children. They mentor students at Windsor Mill Middle School to help them prepare for the transition to high school. They tutor each other and others who need help at school.

    During a six-week leadership camp last summer, they painted bathroom stalls at the school, planted a garden at the building's entrance, plastered encouraging posters along the hallways and invested in combination locks for every locker so students could use them for storage.

    "We asked ourselves, what can we do to make this look like a school again," said Jermaine Isaac, who is the group's first junior to be chosen president. "We thought people might ruin the garden. But they didn't mess with it. They respected it and didn't touch it."

    Created 15 years ago by a former history instructor, the "100 Strong Male Role Models" organization hadn't drawn more than 10 members until last year, when an energetic and infectiously passionate teacher, Dean Scott, became the group's adviser and signed up nearly 40 students.

    "I saw it as my duty to set a good example for them," said Scott, who has taught English in the county and Baltimore City for nearly 30 years.

    Just a year later, the group has outgrown its name, having expanded to nearly 140 members.

    As a sign of solidarity, the group's members don matching black T-shirts emblazoned with their logo every Tuesday, and they wear suits and ties on Thursdays. They stand out in hallways filled with chattering teens, and that's the point.

    "Being around these guys with high GPAs and high standards helps put me in the position to want to do better for myself," said Christopher Roary Jr., 17, the group's coordinator. "I'm preparing for more of a college life."

    In addition to calls from out-of-state, the group has inspired an all-girl's counterpart that was launched this school year with about 40 members.

    Woodlawn High, one of the county's largest high schools with about 2,000 students, has struggled to meet statewide assessment standards and is on a state watch list for schools that have repeatedly failed to show sufficient progress. Last year, an average of eight out of 10 of Woodlawn students failed the state's algebra exam, and two-thirds failed the English test.

    About 40 percent of students receive free or reduced-priced meals, which is an indicator of poverty. Meanwhile, violent episodes - including a melee during a 2004 school assembly on anger management - have marred the school's reputation. It has gone through five principals in about a decade.

    But on a recent Tuesday afternoon, an unabashed air of pride, self-respect and ambition permeates Room 228 at the school, as one after another, each young man marvels over how far he has come.

    "When you see something is working for someone else, you want to know more about it," said Kevin Waith, a 17-year-old senior. Waith was among more than a dozen of the group's members who flew to Chicago last weekend to exchange ideas with administrators and students at Kenwood Academy, which started a similar program two years ago.

    New York City's Middle School 584 recently began clamoring for the group to visit. Hartford High School in Connecticut also wants the teens to come its way.

    But what really has the guys jumping out of their chairs is the idea of nurturing an organization from the ground up, which is what they plan to do next month when they head to Washington High.

    Washington High, a school of about 1,000 students in an economically depressed community, has a lot in common with Woodlawn, said Netzer, the principal there. The school's population is predominantly black (nearly 70 percent), many of its students come from single-family homes or are being raised by extended family, and they struggle to navigate a world filled with peer pressure, drugs and gangs.

    When a counselor from his school ran into a colleague from Kenwood Academy at a conference and heard about "100 Strong," Netzer said he knew he needed to learn more. So he took three students to Chicago to meet with the Kenwood and Woodlawn groups. Now, he plans to enlist about 20 students who will work with members from "100 Strong" next month to help establish a similar group there by the fall.

    Netzer said that after many years of working with high school students, the young men from "100 Strong" are "as impressive a group as I've ever seen."

    Isaac, the group's president, has earned a coveted spot among a group of students from across the country who plan to spend nearly a month this summer exploring China. He beams as he talks about "going national" with the group's first chapter in Kansas City.

    Andre Beasley is a bit more philosophical about branching out, as he reflects on what he describes as the wakening of "dormant potential." Having grown up in poverty, Beasley said being able to give to others has instilled a sense of self-worth.

    "It gives you a greater sense of what it's like to be a role model," said Beasley, 18, a senior. "When you help people and you realize what you have, you're better able to achieve your own goals."

    Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said he is proud, but not surprised, that others want to duplicate the group's success.

    "They have produced evidence and reinforced what we believe and have always known about them - they're good kids," Hairston said.

    Eric King, a special-education teacher who has taught in Baltimore City and county schools for 25 years, said the success of "100 Strong Male Role Models" is rooted in the nurturing and supportive atmosphere that Scott and the school's principal, Don Weglein, have created.

    "The reason this works so well is that the students know we care," King said. "Everyone believes in the organization."

    Waith said the group has given him a network of peers who have his best interest at heart. "They give me that extra push I need," he said. "It's more like a brotherhood."

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:43 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 23, 2007

Parents question school board accountability

Many parents and students at C. Milton Wright High School expressed dismay over Harford school administration's decision to transfer a popular assistant principal, Christopher Battaglia to another school.  Wright students say they started circulating petitions to keep "B-Tag" at their school and issued a battle cry "Viva la resistance" over yesterday's morning announcements.

In light of the events, several parents raised questions about the openness and accountability of the school board, since the governor appoints members to four-year terms.   

"The idea of us, taxpayers not being represented in education is pretty unusual," said Kathy King, a parent of a C. Milton Wright junior. "Perhaps this was the way this county ran for years and years. This isn't a rural community north of Baltimore anymore. It's a suburban area. We need to get active and make some decisions. We need to make some changes in our government."

Parents say they've begun contacting state and county authorities to discuss possibilities of having an elected school board.  Would an elected school board be more effective for the community?

Posted by Madison Park at 1:23 PM | | Comments (0)

May 22, 2007

Students Fight 'Cheating Culture' at Severna Park High

Read my story today about a group of Severna Park High School students fighting what they say is a "culture of cheating" at the highly acclaimed Anne Arundel County School. Their outrage boiled over after an incident earlier this month when at least one student allegedly stole away to a bathroom with a sealed booklet of essay questions for the Advanced Placement American history exam and, with two friends, scoured a review manual for answers.

Now, the College Board, which developed the test, is investigating, and all 45 students in that testing group have to retake the exam Thursday. School district officials say they're waiting to act until they receive findings from The College Board. 

But that wasn't enough for a group of top-ranked students who are so outraged at what they view as rampant cheating at the school that they surveyed their peers last week and pressed the principal today to discipline the cheaters and adopt stricter test proctoring rules.

What do you think of these students' activism -- and of the Anne Arundel County school district's decision to not act on the reports until after The College Board finishes its review? Have you heard of this kind of student activism elsewhere?

I got an e-mail from 2006 Pikesville High graduate and Harvard University freshman Joseph Jampel, who wrote that he and classmates tried "to do a similar thing to what the students at Severna Park are doing now. We formed a group with the goal in mind of combating the rampant cheating at Pikesville. We approached the task from many angles, even conducting a survey and having a meeting with he principal just like those students at Severna Park. We had little success though because we lacked support from our principal, the teachers, and the students," he wrote in an e-mail this morning.
Posted by Ruma Kumar at 1:31 PM | | Comments (1)

Educator Spotlight

Irma E. Johnson
She has been the principal of Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary School in Baltimore for the last 10 years.

Johnson is Maryland’s Distinguished Principal of the Year, the first time a city principal has won the award. She was recognized at the May 8 school board meeting.

Dallas Nicholas is the only elementary school in the city to have its own radio program. Fellow principal Helen B. Shelton, of North Bend Elementary School, nominated Johnson for the award. Here is the letter:

Sun photo by Jed KirschbaumIn the seven years I have been associated with Irma it has always been evident that she is committed to the academic and social success of the students of Dallas F. Nicholas, Sr. Elementary School. Whenever I visited her at the school I encountered a climate that represents an orderly, respectful, and purposeful learning environment.

The respect that the students and staff have for Irma as their principal and leader is evident in the way they interact inside and outside the classrooms. Students seem to want her recognition and approval and the teachers follow her lead as planners and implementers of instruction.
 The effect of her leadership is documented in adequate yearly progress and high levels of student achievement on the Maryland State Assessment.

Irma has been a model, a mentor, and a coach for me in my growth as a school leader. We have had the opportunity to formally study educational leadership together and to share and build expertise in such areas as curriculum, instructional practices, adult professional development, and parent and community involvement.

In Irma’s case, she can always back up her philosophy of how to move a school ahead with success stories from Dallas F. Nicholas, Sr. Elementary School. Her creative leadership has been a model for me in developing my own change strategies for school improvement.

Whether at local leadership meetings or at national education conferences, Irma E. Johnson represents herself as a thoughtful, contributing member of the broad education community. She advances thinking that is good for children.
About the Educator Spotlight
With your help, we’ll spotlight outstanding educators -- anyone who works on behalf of the students, including teachers, principals, guidance counselors, etc. -- from across the region. To salute your favorite educator, please e-mail any of the Sun’s education reporters the following information: The educator’s name; school; educational background; and pesonal data such as age, residence and family. Then, answer this question: How does this educator make a difference?

Posted by Brent Jones at 11:20 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 21, 2007

Non-traditional summer camps

Last summer I wrote about a summer culture camp in Fairfax that attracts adopted children and parents,  and a summer enrichment program in Howard County that specializes in academic achievement  for African American students.
 This year, I want to know what other unique summer camps are offered in the Baltimore area. 
 I’m looking for offerings that differ from the traditional tent and camp fire setting.
 If you know of one please send me an e-mail at
 I’ll post a list of them in a few weeks to give our readers some alternatives to chose from this summer.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 1:55 PM | | Comments (2)

May 17, 2007

Seeking your questions on Towson partnership schools

We're extending the deadline for submissions of questions to the Towson University officials who are partnering with the city schools to run four elementary/middle schools in Cherry Hill and one in Morrell Park. Between now and next Wednesday, May 24, let us know what questions you have about how these schools will be run.

In The Sun's education news today...  A possible contender to be Baltimore's next schools chief has faced ethical questions in Philadelphia about a trip he took to South Africa, partly subsidized by an education software company that later received a no-bid contract in his school system. An investigation cleared the candidate, Gregory Thornton, of wrongdoing. Reports conflict about whether he remains under consideration for the top job in Baltimore. Read our story here. Meanwhile in Howard County, a high school guidance counselor was charged with cocaine possession. On a brighter note... Leah Waller, a teacher at Maree Garnett Farring Elementary, was named Baltimore's Teacher of the Year. And in Baltimore County, 117 students from eight high schools were recognized last night during a ceremony at Towson University that marked their completion of a national college-prep program, Advancement Via Individual Determination.  

The state today released an analysis of U.S. Census figures showing that more than half of Maryland's preschool students were minorities in 2006. Learn more about the changing face of Maryland schools here.


Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:12 AM | | Comments (2)

Million-dollar scholars

Baltimore County school officials yesterday proudly announced that more than $1 million in scholarships has been awarded to about two dozen of the 117 students who participated in Advancement Via Individual Determination, a national college-prep program that the district started offering in 2002. School officials said they are still tallying the scholarship figures from other students, many of whom have earned full, four-year scholarships to study at colleges across the country.

In a ceremony held last night at Towson University, 117 Baltimore County students were recognized for completing AVID. The program is aimed at "students in the middle," who, educators say, are capable of more challenging work but need more resources, such as tutoring and help developing organizational and time-management skills, to reach their potential. Many participants are the first in their families to attend college.

Read on for a complete list of the program's graduates.

Dundalk High School
Aqsah Bashir --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Ryan Bergamy --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Titus Carr --- Morgan State University
Kenny Cherry --- ITT Technical Institute
Nicole Doerr --- Frostburg State University
Alex Grieb --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Vanya Janosevic --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Brittany Lomax --- Villa Julie College
David Long --- Baltimore County Police Academy
Valerie Merlo --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Slade Simancek --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Charles Smith --- ITT Technical Institute

Kenwood High School
Maria Bisignani --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Courtney Cox --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Kasie Dobbins --- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Bryan Evans --- Morgan State University
Shykela Franklin --- College of Notre Dame
Crystal Graham --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Rachael Guiffrida --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Jamie Haney --- Pennsylvania State University
Elizabeth Heinbuch --- Frostburg State University
Chelsie Horseman --- College of Notre Dame
Alexandra Knecht --- Dyersburg College of Tennessee
Lamar Kernes --- Glenville State University
Ashley Lloyd --- Saint Elizabeth College
Matt Mosely --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Adriana Rosas --- University of Maryland College Park
Sierra Stenhouse --- Bowie State University
Ashley White --- Salisbury University

Milford Mill Academy
Christen Brown --- Liberty University
Samia Burgess --- Coppin State University
James Carroll --- Morgan State University
Sharifa Cox --- Hampton University
Andrea Dworkowiski --- Pennsylvania College of Art & Design
Brittany Gilliam --- Coppin State University
Chante McLean --- Morgan State University
Jessica White --- Towson University
Cherokee Williams --- Morgan State University
Latayia Wilson --- North Carolina A&T University

Owings Mill High
David Abramson --- Towson University
Vanessa Agoh --- Frostburg State University
Toma Bubelye --- Philadelphia University
Brittany Davis --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Marina Edelstein --- Bloomsburg University
Marvin Garcia --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Esmeralda Gomez --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Brittany Gwynn --- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Lynette Morris --- Morgan State University
Alexis Nelson --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Jada Oliver --- Bridgewater College
Kiara Parker --- Community of Colleges of Baltimore County
Ada Portillo --- Ohio Valley University
Justin Stafford --- North Carolina/Delaware State
Chanel White --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Bianka Wilson --- Virginia State University

Parkville High School
Sherique Brown --- University of Baltimore
Britney Buckson --- Virginia Union University
Eric Campbell --- Baltimore International College
Phil Collins --- Baltimore International College
Alyshia Jones --- Bennett College
Kelechi Olandu --- Morgan State University
Erica Settles --- Hampton University
Tyneshia Sewell --- Lincoln University
Alex Tucker --- Wesley College

Pikesville High School
Darryl Bell --- Morgan State University
Maurice Cook --- Shenandoah University
Brittany Downing --- Alleghany Community College
Vance Gilmore --- Howard County Community College
Jaymes Marshall --- Morehouse University
Alexander Petrov --- Community Colleges of Baltimore
Raphael Prevot --- University of Baltimore
Lauren Session --- Howard County Community College
Ashley Smith --- Coppin State University
Danielle Spencer --- University of Maryland Eastern Shore
David Tate --- Morehouse University
Tyesha Tucker --- Community Colleges of Baltimore
Brandon Walker --- Shenandoah University
Alexander Weitz --- Centenary College of New York
Alicia White --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Kimbaly Wright --- Frostburg State University

Randallstown High School
Torrie Banks --- Salisbury University
Michael Beverly --- Westwood College
Nicole Davis --- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Maquita Eaton --- Howard University
Atteallah Elliot --- Morgan State University
Jeffrey Morant --- Maryland Institute College of Art
Genesis Mota --- Salisbury University
Davon Pulliam --- Culinary Institute of America
Latesha Scovens --- Bennett College
Maurice Smith --- Art Institute of Philadelphia
Sarita Thompas --- Berkley College of Music
Derrick West --- Westwood College
Chris Wright --- University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Woodlawn High School
Oluwatobi Adewale --- University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Jerica Blue --- Coppin State University
Joanna Brown --- Chowan University
Terrell Caldwell --- Morgan State University
Chatara Carroll --- Miami International University
Desiree Conley --- Long Island University
Janell Fetherstone --- Morgan State University
Tanequa Harkless --- Wilberforce University
Sade Hood --- Morgan State University
Leila Jean --- St. Francis College
Teairra Johnson --- Coppin State University
Dominick Jones --- University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Felicia Jones --- Frostburg State University
Sherika McPherson --- American University
Marvin Moore --- University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Syed Nasir --- University of Maryland College Park
Modupe Onitiri --- Morgan State University
Dwight Parker --- Seton Hall University
Melissa Parks --- St. Vincent College
Eneet Rana --- Community Colleges of Baltimore County
Renesha Raymond --- Pennsylvania State University
Mariama Secka --- University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Colleen Sequea --- Wilberforce University
Shanelle Whetstone --- Temple University

Posted by Gina Davis at 10:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 16, 2007

Who will be the next city schools chief?

The Baltimore school board's search for a CEO to lead the 83,000-student school system is drawing to a close. In today's Sun, we report that Gregory Thornton, the No. 2 official in Philadelphia schools, is a leading candidate for the job. Interim schools CEO Charlene Cooper Boston, who has said publicly that she was applying for the permanent position, won't comment on whether she's still in the running. School board members are also mum, except to say that they'll have an announcement before the end of the academic year.

Who do you think should be the next city schools chief? Should Boston stay on, or should the school board be looking to an outsider like Thornton? Let us know your thoughts here. But first... don't forget to submit your questions today for this week's Education Q&A, about Towson University's plans to help manage five struggling city schools. Raymond Lorion, dean on Towson University's school of education, and Jeff Grotsky, a former city schools official who now oversees the partnerships for Towson, will answer your questions.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:44 AM | | Comments (0)

May 15, 2007

Super speeches!

They can be bland and boring, or downright funny. They can inspire, make you tear up, or serve as the voice of a generation.
 The graduation speech is a summation of four years of hard work, dedication and sacrifice. This year, I want to get a sense of what students will be talking about. 
 So cut, copy, and paste those speeches you are preparing, and e-mail them to me – John-John Williams IV – at  I want to post highlights of your speeches on the blog for all to see.
 In addition, I also want to know what makes a great speech? Tell me about the process involved. How much work have you put into the speech? What has inspired you? What guidelines – if any – did your school administration give you in preparation of your speech?
 If you are you a graduate who has delivered a speech, what advice would you give current orators?
 Send me your thoughts, speeches and tips in the next few weeks and I will publish excerpts and anecdotes in the days leading up to graduation.
 Hope to hear from you soon.
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 11:37 AM | | Comments (0)

May 14, 2007

New scholarship offered to city seniors

Baltimore City Community College is offering a one-year scholarship covering tuition and books to one graduating senior at each of the 41 city high schools.

The scholarship — announced this morning — will be worth about $3,400 each and is part of the college’s 60th anniversary celebration. BCCC will offer 60 total scholarships, and students in the school’s continuing education and GED programs are also eligible.

“It will improve the optimism on part of students to know that they have that money available,” Baltimore city schools interim CEO Charlene Cooper Boston said during this morning’s announcement.

Scholarship applicants will need to have at least a 2.5 grade point average and have to submit an essay. Winners will be required to devote at least 30 hours to community service.

BCCC is an open admissions institution that enrolls nearly 20,000 credit and noncredit students each year.

“We have to provide options for people,” BCCC President Carolane Williams said.

Posted by Brent Jones at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0)

Education Q&A

This week's Q&A 

Topic: School-university partnerships

Across the nation, urban school systems are turning to local universities to help them reform low-performing schools. In various forms, Baltimore has been partnering with institutes of higher education for years. A new partnership with Towson University has been in the news in recent weeks.

Since last summer, Towson has been helping to run Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School in a structure similar to a charter school, a public school that operates independently from the central bureaucracy. Now, the city school board has given Towson the authority to lead four elementary/middle schools in Cherry Hill, in addition to Morrell Park. A new governing board, co-chaired by a Towson representative and a top city school system official, will be formed to oversee the five schools.

The state school board has approved the deal in concept, but has requested more information about the details. At the same time, parents are protesting the impending transfers of 49 teachers at the five schools. Towson leaders believe those teachers didn't share their vision of reform. Some volunteered to transfer to other schools in the city. Others are being transferred against their will.

For this week's "Education Q&A," Raymond Lorion, the dean of Towson's school of education, and Jeffrey N. Grotsky, a former city schools administrator who now oversees the partnerships for Towson, will answer your questions about their work. To submit a question, please post a comment here by 10 a.m. Wednesday. Answers will be posted next Monday.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:57 AM | | Comments (0)

Education Q&A

Topic: Muslim holidays and public school closings

Question for Rochelle S. Eisenberg, an attorney who has represented school boards and superintendents across Maryland. She works for the law firm Hodes, Pessin & Katz:

Q: Since school systems aren't allowed to ask for religious affiliations, would the school consider sending out surveys to get the opinions of parents in regards to the addition of the Muslim holiday(s)? --- Nazma Khan-Edwards

A: The issue as to whether any particular religious holiday should be a school holiday cannot be based on a survey of community interest or intent. It must be based on the impact the holiday has on the school system. Should there be such absenteeism of students or staff that the education of students is adversely impacted, only then may a local board of education consider closing for the holiday. For instance, if such a large number of teachers were absent that it would be difficult to secure substitutes, then the local board would consider closing on the holiday.

For instance, in some western Maryland counties, the schools are closed on the first day of hunting season due to the rate of absenteeism should the schools be opened. In a southern Maryland county, the schools are closed on Fair Day.

The issue is not intent. The issue is impact. What is the impact of the religious holiday on the operation of the public school in the county? If the impact is minimal, the school system may not close.


Question for Dr. Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee:

Q: What did you tell your children when they weren't allowed to take off from school to celebrate Eid? --- Nazma Khan-Edwards

A: It has been difficult to explain to my three sons why the public school system is not treating them equal to others.  In the younger years, my wife and I stressed to our children to attend school, even on our holidays.

When the turn-down of equal holidays occurred in 1997 or close to it, by Dr. Stuart R. Berger, who was then superintendent of Baltimore County public schools, I started teaching my sons to be active in discussing matters of ethnicity and discrimination with others. I encouraged them to educate others about Islam and Arab culture and history.

I must admit, it was a difficult road, as many times they come back with stories of how others are not aware of or misinformed about Islam. The exclusion of Muslims from the school’s holidays is part of general trend to profile and discriminate against others who the others perceive as different. I tell my sons that the U.S. can count those who are visible. We can reverse the profiling and the discrimination by active participation in public affairs and in public debates.


Question for Rochelle S. Eisenberg, an attorney who has represented school boards and superintendents across Maryland. She works for the law firm Hodes, Pessin & Katz:

Q: Why can't Christmas and Easter breaks be shortened to accommodate Muslim holidays? --- Nazma Khan-Edwards

A: State law requires that the schools in all counties be closed on certain days, including Christmas Eve and from then through January 1 and the Friday before Easter and from then through the Monday after Easter. (See Section 7-103 of the Education Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland). Closing on these days is mandatory, not discretionary, in all Maryland counties. This same law requires that the public schools in Maryland be closed on Thanksgiving Day and the day after, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, and primary and general election days.


Question for Dr. Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore chapter of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee:

Q: What keeps you motivated after so many years of being turned down on this issue? --- Nazma Khan-Edwards

A: The Japanese-American experience inspired me after 9/11. America unfairly interned its own citizens and immigrants just because of their Japanese ancestry during World War II. Japanese-Americans still organized in the aftermath of internment despite the heavy pressure on them.

The USA today is casting a new internment on Muslim and Arab-Americans in a non-physical way. Arab and Muslim-Americans today are subject to surveillance, racial and religious profiling, and deprivation of equal rights in schools and worse than that by the public schools passing misinformation about Islam or Arab culture, thus they add fuel to the fire. 

My eyes today are set on making a better future for our grandchildren so they can be included in the American way of life, as equal citizens, adding to and enriching America in the same way as America enrich them. We owe it to this nation not to be a nation of smart discrimination. We send a terrible message to the world when we preach democracy, freedom and human rights, when in fact we still discriminate against many minorities without due cause.


Question for Rochelle S. Eisenberg, an attorney who has represented school boards and superintendents across Maryland. She works for the law firm Hodes, Pessin & Katz:

Q: Year after year, children who celebrate Christmas have something to look forward to. Muslims fast for 30 days and in the end have to make the decision of whether to send their child(ren) to school or celebrate with families. These two days off that we would like implemented ARE for the children. Aren't the children our future? What do we tell our children as to why their school isn't closed for Eid? --- Nazma Khan-Edwards

A: If a child asks why his school is not closed on any particular religious holiday, and if the child is old enough to understand the following, explain that there are not enough children or teachers absent for the school system to be closed on that particular holiday. Explain that within any heterogeneous, diverse society, there are people who follow many faiths (and some choose not to follow any faith).

Schools cannot be closed on every holiday for every faith or the school systems could not function. State law requires that public schools be open for 180 actual school days and a minimum of 1,080 hours during a 10-month period in each school year.

Tell the children that all families in America have the right to provide religious instruction to their children outside of the public schools or have their children attend private, religious schools in lieu of the public schools. Other countries do not give families this right and some do not even give all citizens equal rights unless they profess certain religious beliefs.

If a family wishes their child to engage in a religious observance on any particular religious holiday, the child will be excused from school and the absence will be deemed lawful. This is not the case in all countries.

Tell the children to be grateful to be living in America, which is the most diverse, open, and religiously tolerant country in the world.

Read recent Sun articles on this subject:

Muslims voice protests over school calendar

Muslims urge board to recognize holidays


Posted by Gina Davis at 5:53 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 11, 2007

Educator Spotlight

Sondra Cawthorne

She teaches high school alternative education at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen and has 33 years of  teaching experience.  Cawthorne lives in Belcamp with husband, Al and has three grown children, Anthony, Alexandra and Alisha.


How does this educator make a difference?

"Many of the students who come to the Alternative Program at the Center for Educational Opportunity have very low self-esteem and very little confidence in themselves as life-long learners. To begin with, Mrs. Cawthorne gets to know each student as individuals and sets high expectations for success. She builds confidence and self-esteem by believing in them and believing that they can meet her expenctations.

Mrs. Cawthorne encourages high levels of creativity in students. She begins by getting to know each of her students as individuals; understanding their background, discovering how each learns best, and identifying gaps in their knowledge base. Next, she tailors each of her lessons to the individuals which she is teaching. Her instructional focus is for each student to grow, achieve, and find academic success. For many students, Mrs. Cawthorne is the difference between staying in school or dropping out.

After a long day of teaching, most teachers go home to their families. After finishing teaching during the day, Mrs. Cawthorne teaches additional students during the night Alternative Education program. Students take classes in the evening if they are suspended from the dail program or need additional credits beyond the school day. Mrs. Cawthorn teaches two evening sections of English 11.

During the summer, most teachers rest and recharge for the next school year. Mrs. Cathorne has spent the last five summers teaching English 11 to students who needed to recover credits."

-- submitted by Michael O’Brien, instructional facilitator at Center for Educational Opportunity

About the Educator Spotlight

With your help, we'll spotlight outstanding educators --- anyone who works on the behalf of students, including teachers, principals, guidance counselors, etc. --- from across the region. To salute your favorite educator, please e-mail any of The Sun's education reporters the following information: The educator's name; school; educational background; and personal data, such as age, residence and family. Then, answer this question: How does this educator make a difference?

Posted by Madison Park at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)

May 10, 2007

Roundup: college graduation speakers

Brian BillickMedia types and Democratic politicians are the favored graduation speakers at area colleges and universities this month.

David Gergen of U.S. News and World Report sends off McDaniel College grads; Goucher College gets Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury creator; Newsweek editor Jon Meacham speechifies at Loyola College; Local broadcast mogul Cathy Hughes tells Morgan State grads to get in on it; and Paula Kerger, president & CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service pledges her words of wisdom at the University of Baltimore. 

Among the pols, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland will attempt to inspire not one, but two classes of graduating seniors, first this weekend at St. Mary's College of Maryland and then May 20 at the University of Maryland, College Park. Hoyer spokeswoman Stephanie Lundberg assures your blogger that while "there will be similar themes" of civic responsibility in both commencement addresses, they will not be identical.

Other elected officials on Maryland's scholastic stump circuit are Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Coppin State), Attorney General Douglas Gansler (University of Maryland, Eastern Shore), Comptroller Peter Franchot (Capitol College) and Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy (University of Baltimore).

Johns Hopkins University snags two high-profile speakers this year in Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick and music producer Quincy Jones. A partial list of commencement exorcisers after the jump.

May 12

Capitol College -- Peter Franchot, Comptroller of Maryland

St. Mary's College of Maryland -- U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer

May 13

St. John's College -- Leon Kass, bioethicist 

May 14

Maryland Institute College of Art -- Lesley Dill, artist

May 15

College of Notre Dame -- Rev. Robert Leavitt, St. Mary's Seminary rector

May 17

Johns Hopkins University, Homewood campus -- Brian Billick, football coach

Johns Hopkins Peabody Conservatory -- Quincy Jones, music producer

May 18

University of Maryland, Baltimore -- Francis Kelly, businessman

University of Maryland, Eastern Shore -- Douglas Gansler, attorney general

Villa Julie College -- Michael Ain, orthopedic surgeon

May 19

Bowie State University -- Essie Calhoun, Eastman Kodak executive 

Hood College -- Sheilah Kast, WYPR-FM radio host

Loyola College -- Jon Meacham, Newsweek editor

McDaniel College -- David Gergen, U.S. News & World Report editor, and political consultant

May 20

University of Maryland, College Park -- Steny Hoyer, U.S. House Majority Leader

Morgan State -- Cathy Hughes, Radio One founder

Coppin State -- Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senator

Baltimore International College -- Susan Hendee, academic dean

Mt. St. Mary's College -- Pietro Sambi, Catholic Archbishop

May 21

University of Baltimore, law -- Patricia Jessamy, Baltimore State's Attorney

May 23

Towson University, business -- Ed Hale, First Mariner Bank founder

May 24

University of Maryland, Baltimore County -- Judith Rodin, Rockefeller Foundation president

Towson University, education -- John Schuerholz, Atlanta Braves manager

Towson University, fine arts -- Phyllis Brotman, public relations executive

Salisbury University -- Julius Blattner, graduating student and Maryland National Guard soldier

May 25

University of Baltimore, business and liberal arts -- Paula Kerger, PBS president & CEO

Goucher College -- Garry Trudeau, Doonesbury cartoonist



Posted by Gadi Dechter at 5:48 AM | | Comments (0)

May 9, 2007

Who should run the city schools?

Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell, a mayoral candidate, released part of his education platform yesterday. At the center is a proposal to return control of Baltimore's schools exclusively to the mayor, dissolving a current partnership with the state in which the mayor and the governor have joint appointment power over the school board. The mayor controlled city schools until a decade ago, when officials agreed to cede partial control to the state in exchange for increased funding. Critics of the partnership say it's left neither party responsible. The Sun's story about Mitchell's plan is here.

Also last night, the city school board voted to keep a for-profit company, Edison Schools, running three elementaries, but details of the funding arrangement have yet to be finalized. You can read my story here. The Edison schools will be funded like charter schools, public schools that operate independently. But the city is mired in a funding battle with the charters, which want to receive as much money in cash per student as the system spends at regular schools. The city wants to fund the charters through a mix of cash and services, such as food and special education.

Do you think the city-state partnership to govern Baltimore schools is working, or should control be returned exclusively to the mayor? And what are your thoughts on school privatization and how independently-run public schools should be funded?

(A note for you city school board followers out there: The next regularly scheduled board meeting, on May 22, will be held at the Lake Clifton high school campus, 2801 Saint Lo Drive, rather than the usual location at school system heaquarters. The starting time, 6 p.m., is the same.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:05 PM | | Comments (1)

Whittling down school board replacements

Earlier this week, the Carroll County school board chose three potential replacements to fill former member Thomas Hiltz’s seat. (Gov. Martin O’Malley is responsible for appointing someone to serve the rest of Hiltz’s term.)

In a public meeting, the board interviewed and selected three people from the more than 20 that submitted resumes for the position. As members sat down to discuss their top three choices – again, in public – they garnered some criticism from the audience and candidates, who felt the board was disorganized. Board member Barbara Shreeve emphasized that their discussion and occasional stalemates were part of the process.

How would you like to see your school board go about this kind of process? Is it best conducted in public or in a private session?

You can read more about the process and the candidates selected here.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)

Citywide student art exhibit

Next week, the Baltimore Museum of Art will exhibit artwork by more than 300 students in city public schools. "As We See It!" will be on display from for five days starting May 16, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. On the final day -- Sunday, May 20 -- there will be reception and children's art activities from 1 to 4 p.m.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:48 AM | | Comments (0)

May 7, 2007

School privatization vote

The Baltimore school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on a contract to keep a for-profit company, Edison Schools, in charge of three city elementaries, Montebello, Gilmor and Furman Templeton. The Maryland State Department of Education contracted with the company in 2000 to run the schools, which were at the time among the lowest performing in the state. Now, because of changes in state and federal law, the state is returning control of the schools to the city school board, which must decide whether to keep Edison on. The city schools administration supports keeping the company, citing improved test scores and parental involvement at all three schools. Still, Gilmor continues to be included on a list of the state's lowest-performing schools.

Let us know your thoughts on school privatization here.

The school board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at 200 E. North Ave.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:23 PM | | Comments (2)

Not again! You too can be a teacher of the year!

I just wrote a story about the Howard County Teacher of the Year, Patricia Phillips, a reading specialist at Phelps Luck Elementary School in Columbia.

Teacher of the YearThe problem? When I came back to the office, I saw a press release about yet another teacher of the year recipient. The number of teacher of year awards that have come across my desk this year has now crept into double digits.

The one I just wrote about is essentially the crème de la crème of all contests; winners at the county level vie for the state — and possibly national – teacher of the year. I am in no way questioning the validity of this award.

I do think that all of these other awards presented by this, that, and the other organization, weakens the power and meaning of the more legitimate honors.

It was the same when I covered education in Louisiana. I would get endless press releases about another Teacher of the Year.

After a while the title becomes as meaningless as a Who’s Who Among American High School Students award. Anyone can get it. With the right letter of recommendation, you too can be a teacher of the year.

What do you think? Do you think that oversaturation of contests weaken the meaning of these honors? Have you ever disagreed with the naming of a certain teacher of the year?

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:12 PM | | Comments (0)

State campuses rake in nearly $1 billion for research

The 13-campus University System of Maryland announced today that in fiscal year 2006, its institutions received $975.9 million in external research grants and contracts -- that is, money separate from state general operational and capital funds.

The figures announced this morning represent a slight decline from the $983.8 million raked in  during fiscal year 2005, but some state campuses not known for major research have been increasingly successful in attracting research dollars, officials said.

These external funds represent a growing portion of many campuses' overall budgets, and are increasingly important during periods of state belt-tightening. 

Towson University's external research funding grew from $12.7 million in 2005 to $16.4 million in 2006. At Bowie State University, research funding increased by about 40 percent to $10 million, while Frostburg State University doubled its funding from 2005 to $3.4 million.

As expected, the overwhelming majority of research money goes to the state's major research centers: the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute; the University of Maryland, College Park; and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Combined, these research-focused institutions accounted for more than $870 million of the total 2006 research funding, officials said.


Posted by Gadi Dechter at 11:44 AM | | Comments (0)

Educator Q&A

Topic: Muslim Holidays

In Baltimore County, some Muslims are continuing a years-long push to persuade school officials to close schools for two of the most holy Islamic holidays — Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Supporters say it’s only fair to close on these two days because schools are closed for the Jewish observances of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, as well as the Christian holidays of Christmas and Good Friday.

But school officials — backed by state law — say it is illegal to close schools solely for religious purposes. Schools may be closed on a religious holiday only for "secular reasons." For example, schools may close if so many teachers are absent that administrators can't find enough substitutes to cover classes.

Dr. Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Rochelle S. Eisenberg, an attorney who has represented superintendents and school boards across the state, will answer your questions on this issue. Please submit questions (by posting a comment to this entry) by 10 a.m. Wednesday. Their answers will be posted next Monday.

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:04 AM | | Comments (4)

School safety questions answered

Below are the answers to questions received regarding school safety.

1. What are schools doing that is or will be pro-active, rather than reactive in relation to school safety?
A: Much of what is done in the school security arena is proactive. A "school security system" is made up of three components. First is physical security which includes locks, alarms, cameras, lighting, etc. Secondly are strong policy and procedures. Third and most importantly is the cooperation of the the people the system is intended to protect. Students, parents and school staffs must assume responsibilty for their environment. These three components are totally proactive.

- Larry Faries, Carroll County's Coordinator of School Security

A: The question of what the schools are doing pro-actively can best be addressed by the school system.  We believe they have installed more closed circuit cameras, and hired security officers for each high school, however that does not address all of the schools in the system.

- from the Howard County School Resource Officer supervisors

2. Taking Virginia Tech as a case study (or any student-led school shooting), how do schools propose to build community and increase respect and tolerance among students that may be quite diverse?

A: Carroll County Public Schools is using an inside-out process to become culturally proficient. We define cultural profiency as "being able to put aside one's self-centered focus and impulses in order to gain empathy, listen, and take another person's perspective. Seeing things from another's perspective breaks down biased stereotypes and so breeds tolerance and acceptance of differences." (Daniel Goleman, 1995)

Here are some examples from our work so far:

*professional development for school-based leaders (administrators and teachers) in what it means to be culturally proficient

* community forums to encourage communication and build relationships

*student leadership workshops to discuss issues that help them to accept,embrace and respect differences and similarities (many schools have multicultural clubs)

*community partnerships to better serve the families within our community and identifying community resources

* celebrations of cultures (Unity Day at [Sykesville's] South Carroll [High School], Heritage Day at Piney Ridge [Elementary]) and recognitions of schools and leaders for intentionally implementing multicultural education into the way they do business (Black History, Women's history).

The biggest impact is integrating multicultural education into our CCPS curriculum so that ALL kids see themselves reflected in books, videos, research, biography studies, etc. Also throughout Student Services, there is character education, and those characteristics such as respect, fairness, justice are taught and students are recognized for their behaviors.

- Karen Ganjon, Carroll County's Director of Minority Achievement and Intervention Programs

3. How will students who have traditionally been ostracized - kids with behavior problems, disabilities, mental illness - be invited into the mainstream?

A: Students who have unique needs are invited into the mainstream everyday.  One way we accomplish this is to partner them with older students as mentors.  For example, [Union Bridge's] Francis Scott Key [High School] has established a mentor program where high school students are scheduled for one class period to serve as a mentor to elementary and middle school students from their feeder schools.  This has been highly productive in building opportunities for positive role modeling.  Another method of meeting the needs of these students is through Community Learning Centers (CLC's).  These after school programs provide academic assistance, along with enrichment (club) activities that are of interest to students.  Here, students are provided structured social opportunities focused around an area of interest to them.  These are just two examples of many things happening in our schools which invite the disenfranchised into the fold.

- Dana Falls, Carroll County Director of Student Services

A: The remaining questions also can only be addressed by the school system.  These questions refer to curriculum development and practices.  The SROs don't impact these issues. All of these questions are best addressed by the Board of Education.

- from the Howard County School Resource Officer supervisors

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)

May 4, 2007

Are schools safe?

Today’s article headlined "2 Teens Held on Bomb Charge" again raised questions about what school officials are doing to ensure students are safe in the schoolhouse. While no explosives were found at Sudbrook Magnet Middle School yesterday, police said the two girls who were eventually arrested told investigators they had tried without success to set off a homemade bomb about two weeks ago at the Pikesville-area school.

Sudbrook Magnet Middle School

Anxious parents — who rushed to the school after word filtered out through a voicemail message from the principal distributed on the school system’s mass-messaging service — understandably had many questions as they scanned the crowd of evacuated students for their children. They wondered why the girls were allowed back in the school after the previous incident and what school officials were doing to make sure children and staff members are safe at Sudbrook.

Baltimore County school officials have a safety plan that includes specific duties for staff members during emergencies such as yesterday’s incident at Sudbrook.

Do you think school officials are doing enough to keep schools safe? What would you like to see them do differently? Are you worried that schools are becoming less safe? Do you think school officials do a good enough job of communicating with parents, students and the community when incidents like this occur?

In addition to hearing your thoughts today, we invite you to check out Monday’s "Education Q&A," which will take up the issue of school safety.


Posted by Gina Davis at 12:55 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

May 3, 2007

Comic books and graphic novels

The state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick is encouraging schools to use comic books and graphic novels to engage struggling readers.

Check out the story in today's paper. Do you agree with Grasmick? We would like to hear from you.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:03 PM | | Comments (1)

Educator Spotlight

Ian Chisholm

Fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Chatsworth School, Reisterstown

Ian lives in Owings Mills with his wife, Jessica Chisholm, and two children, Jacob & Leah.


"How does this educator make a difference?"

How does Ian Chisholm make a difference? How doesn’t he? Ian Chisholm is a creative teacher who goes above and beyond to ensure the educational experience for his students. He is a caring and supportive teacher.

He is dedicated first and foremost to the success and emotional, social and cognitive development of each and every student. His style is unassuming and nurturing, although the students are unaware of his endless attention to their well-being. At the same time, he holds very high expectations for their academic performance, garnering the utmost respect from every student he comes in contact with. He never raises his voice, yet he is extremely successful in running a controlled, productive classroom.

He supports all of the activities associated with the school, the parents and students. He can always be found at PTA functions, every school picnic, school music productions, graduation and the end-of-year party for the fifth grade students.

He makes learning fun, always with the right instinct to keep the students’ interest. His calm and patient temperament empowers students of every level to succeed. Many parents find comfort in his competence and devotion to past and present students with special learning needs. There is nothing he won’t do to help a child learn.

For 10 of his 16 years in the educational field, Mr. Chisholm has been a shining star in an outstanding Chatsworth School magnet program. On a daily basis, he exemplifies the ultimate definition of the word teacher. How many teachers are able to walk the line of teacher/friend in a professional way such that the students know he means business but also feel comfortable including him in their fun?

He is a confidante to many present and prior students who see him as role model and someone they can trust and enjoy spending time with. He is genuine in that any free time he has he chooses to spend with the students. In any of his free periods, you can find him with students in some capacity. This could mean playing football during recess, organizing academic or recreational tournaments, or discussing a recent movie he saw.

We all look back on our childhood and fondly remember a teacher who we will never forget because of his or her positive influence on our lives. We wonder if Mr. Chisholm realizes that he is that teacher that stands out to so many of his past and present students.

Submitted by Linda Esterson, an Owings Mills parent

About the Educator Spotlight

With your help, we'll spotlight outstanding educators --- anyone who works on the behalf of students, including teachers, principals, guidance counselors, etc. --- from across the region. To salute your favorite educator, please e-mail any of The Sun's education reporters the following information: The educator's name; school; educational background; and personal data, such as age, residence and family. Then, answer this question: How does this educator make a difference?

Posted by Gina Davis at 1:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 2, 2007

This just in.....

My colleague -- and podmate -- Melissa Harris is chatting up all types of sources, and typing away, while developing a story about the University of Maryland's new plan to institute an emergency text-message service in light of the Virginia Tech massacre. The system, however, is voluntary, meaning students have to sign up to receive the messages.
What do you think about that? If you were a student there, would you sign up for the service?

Check out Melissa's story, and check out the results of our first "Education Q and A" Monday, which will focus on school security.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

Budget Battles

In today’s Page 1 story about local funding for schools, critics in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties complained that county leaders leave school officials out of the loop when it comes to determining what must be cut from school budgets.

"As taxpayers, we’re entitled to understand why things would be cut or added," said Maggie Kennedy, president of the Baltimore County Education Coalition.

Conflicts over budgets are nothing new in local government. However, in Maryland — where most school boards are appointed by the governor but depend on county governments for large chunks of their budgets — the infighting can be especially severe.

Sue Katz, president of the Baltimore County Council of PTAs, describes the budgeting process as "convoluted" and questions why county leaders would presume to be more knowledgeable than school officials about the districts needs.

"Who makes decisions that shin guards are more important than textbooks or kindergarten helpers," Katz said.

Some education advocates favor a process that is used in some school systems, including Carroll County, whereby local government officials set the funding level but leave it up to school board members to make the necessary cuts to balance their budgets.

Others say that an ideal system is one where county officials and school leaders work hand-in-hand to sort out the priorities, but such a system work only when both sides trust and respect each other.

What do you think? Are county officials too heavy-handed? Are education advocates expecting too much? Is there a happy  medium?

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:31 PM | | Comments (0)

Report: with lower SAT scores, Md. bucks Southern trend

In comparison with other southern states, Maryland students’ SAT scores are high, but still below the national average and facing pressure from demographic trends, according to a report released today by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

Of the 16 states scrutinized by SREB, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that advises southern states on education issues, only Virginia students had average SAT scores in 2006 that exceeded the national average of 1021.

The average SAT score in Maryland for 2006 was 1012, down two points since 1997. By contrast, most SREB-represented states improved their college admission-test scores from 1997 to 2006, according to the report.

SREB’s member states: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

Part of the story about Maryland’s SAT struggle, according to the report, has to do with an increasing number of minority students taking the test. “Closing performance gaps among all groups of students also remains an issue for both the nation and the region,” the report said.

In Maryland, that performance gap is striking – the average SAT score of black students in 2006 was about 240 points lower than for whites -- and as more minority students take college admissions tests, their relatively weaker performance shows up in overall results.

The percentage of black Marylanders taking the SAT shot up by about 50 percent in the last decade, but (unlike in most Southern states) their average scores have declined, according to the report. SAT Declines for black students were also seen in Delaware and Florida.

There is some good news, too, in the report: Maryland and Virginia outscored the country on the new writing section of the SAT.

Posted by Gadi Dechter at 10:36 AM | | Comments (1)

Soliciting your thoughts on school safety

Just a reminder to submit questions today for our blog's weekly Education Q&A. This week's topic is school safety. On Monday, we'll post the answers we receive from Larry Faries, security coordinator for Carroll County schools, and a Howard County police officer.

And speaking of school safety, the Baltimore school board will host public forums on the topic for the next two nights, gathering input before voting to adopt a citywide plan intended to make classrooms safer. Tonight's forum will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at in the first-floor board room at city school system headquarters, 200 E. North Ave. Tomorrow's event will be at the same time, in the library at the Walbrook high school complex, 2000 Edgewood St.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:21 AM | | Comments (0)

May 1, 2007

One-stop site for Md. college stats

The Maryland Higher Education Commission has just made it easier to browse its treasure trove of statistics about nearly all public and private universities, community colleges and vocational schools in the state.

Until recently, the information was scattered throughout the MHEC Web site and often buried in lengthy reports. But now they've sorted it all in one section of the site, where you can compare information about tuition, enrollment, graduation rates and other interesting metrics, from the last ten years.

The commission -- not to be confused with the University System of Maryland, the governing board of 11 public colleges -- oversees for the governor all institutions of higher learning in Maryland. One of its principal functions is gathering and analyzing this material. 

We rely on the data for our stories, and it can also be an invaluable tool for parents and prospective students when making college choices. Warning: addictive.



Posted by Gadi Dechter at 11:49 PM | | Comments (0)

Linthicum middle schooler charged for bringing knife to school

Hi readers,

Check out my story today about a 14-year-old student at Lindale Middle School in Linthicum who was suspended after bringing a knife to school. Parents have criticized the school for taking two weeks to report the weapons possession to police and for not notifying them. They're also up in arms over a cheerleader hit list that was posted on MySpace by another student at the school.

The story dovetails to this week's "Education Q and A", which focuses on school safety.

Please submit questions for the "Education Q and A" by 10 a.m. Wednesday for Larry Faries, security coordinator for Carroll County Schools, and a Howard County police officer. Their answers will be posted next week.

Posted by Ruma Kumar at 11:41 AM | | Comments (0)

Questions for a board candidate

During a meeting yesterday, Carroll County school board members narrowed down a list of questions for potential candidates to fill a vacant board seat. (Board member Thomas Hiltz resigned in late March.)

Out of more than 50 questions created by the board and students, these three were selected to ask candidates during interviews next Monday, May 7, at 1:30 p.m.:

1. What do you think are the most pertinent issues facing Carroll County students and the school system?

2. Why are you choosing to seek appointment for the school board?

3. What are your priorities for capital and operating budgets for Carroll County public schools?

What questions would you ask a prospective board member? What would you like to see in someone joining your school board?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:19 AM | | Comments (1)

New report on graduation rates

 For those of you who have an intense curiosity about the discrepancies in graduation rates around the state and the nation, a new national report with data specific to Maryland has just been released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education. The report calls for a uniform student tracking system in Maryland. That tracking sysem was expected to be in place by next school year.

Click here to see the report

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
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