February 8, 2012

Baltimore County school board passes budget

Baltimore County school board members voted unanimously Tuesday night to adopt a $1.23 billion budget with an amendment that would add two more auditors at a cost of $190,000. Board members said they believed the existing auditors had been burdened recently with additional duties that involved checking out tips from the public. The school system recently out-sourced a hotline for tipsters to call to report problems with the school system. The new system has created a higher volume of reports to be checked out, according to school board members. School board president Larry Schmidt said legislators had asked that an internal auditor to report to the board. The board already has several auditors.

The budget amendments were passed shortly after Dulaney High School parents came forward to protest the increase in class sizes this year as a result of cuts to teaching positions at the high school. The board cut nearly 200 teaching positions in the middle and high schools last year, but did not cut administrators. The 2013 budget will add teaching positions in schools where enrollment is expected to increase and cuts about 45 non-classroom jobs. The budget does not restore any teaching positions in the high schools, however.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Twenty apply for Baltimore County school superintendent job - so far

On Tuesday, the search firm hired to help find Baltimore County a new superintendent reported it has 20 applications that are either in hand or started, and discussions are underway with other applicants as well. While that number may be low so far, it is still higher than the applicant pool for Orange County, Florida, a much larger district than Baltimore County.

 The question that wasn't answered is how experienced and qualified the people who have applied are so far. No hints came on that score at the school board meeting. A report from the search firm said that members of the public want a new leader who is a good communicator, is ethical and can bring people from diverse backgrounds together. People with a wide range of perspectives - from students to administrators, business people, legislators and teaachers - emphasized the need for the new superintendent to be able to handle the diversity in schools from Dundalk to Towson.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 17, 2012

Public forum for new superintendent search

Tonight, Baltimore County held the first of three open forums to allow the public to comment on the characteristics they would like to see in the next superintendent. Joe A. Hairston is retiring in June after 12 years as superintendent. Consultants from the search firm were there to listen, but no education officials were there. The public comments were allowed to be confidential, although no one seemed to mind being quoted. Only a dozen or so people showed up, but they represented many different groups. In general, they said they believed there were many great teachers in the system, but that they wanted changes. Several individuals said they wanted an open minded, compassionate, ethical superintendent who was a "people person" and who would have courage to try new things and stand up to elected officials.

A number of parents, including Julie Sugar, the president of the PTA at Loch Raven High School, and parent Laurie Taylor Mitchell, said they wanted a superintendent who would address the lack of air-conditioning and other facilities issues that have plagued the system for decades because of its aging buildings. They said they want a superintendent who will stand up for what schools need during budget time rather than submitting a budget that is acceptable to the county executive.

Continue reading "Public forum for new superintendent search " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore County's Renee Foose superintendent candidate

Renee Foose, the deputy superintendent for Baltimore County Schools, has applied for the superintendent's job in Orange County, Florida, the tenth largest district in the nation. Foose's name is one of 21 applicants the Orange County Public Schools have made public. The list will be narrowed to semi-finalists by the end of the month. A county school spokeswoman said the interviews with finalists would be conducted in February.

Foose is a former Montgomery County school official who was hired by Baltimore County last April at a salary of $214,000.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 27, 2011

What to make of Baltimore County's rising suspensions?

As reported by my colleague Liz Bowie: Baltimore County reported the highest suspension rate of any Maryland district apart from the Eastern Shore in the last school year, despite its efforts to focus on discipline that doesn't require students to miss classroom time.

About 10,000 students were suspended — or about one in every 10 — a rate that exceeds Baltimore City, where suspensions have been significantly reduced under CEO Andrés Alonso. The county is also noting disproportionate numbers of African American and special education students, which experts said county officials said was incredibly problematic. 

Note: However, after years of declines the city school system's suspension rates rose last year as a result of an uptick of attacks on students and teachers, as well as insubordination. There's also been a debate about the crackdown on suspensions in the city, as teachers say that students and sometimes even parents have been rather opportunistic in using the the policy against educators.

As Liz's story pointed out: "The issue has prompted fierce debate — among education advocates and at school board meetings. Proponents defend suspensions as a time-honored and effective punishment, while opponents point to recent research showing that suspended students are at higher risk for dropping out, repeating a grade and entering the criminal justice system."

So, what do you make of the county's suspension trends? Is the county heading down a road that requires the same uproar that the city endured years ago?

Continue reading "What to make of Baltimore County's rising suspensions? " »

Posted by Erica Green at 3:52 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 19, 2011

Superintendent search questionnaire for Baltimore County

The Baltimore County school board is asking for the public to comment on what characteristics are most important in a new superintendent. The school board is hoping to hire a new leader for the district by next spring to replace outgoing superintendent Joe A. Hairston. 

 The first attempt to gather public comment is through an online survey on the school district's website. The survey is located on the lower right hand side of the home page and asks questions that are essentially the same whether you are a teacher, parent or administrator. 
The survey will be available on the website for several weeks.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 7, 2011

Tense exchange at Baltimore County school board meeting

In an unusually sharp exchange, school board members  disagreed at Tuesday night's public board meeting over data that apparently showed high numbers of suspensions at some county high schools. Board member Ramona Johnson had requested in advance of the meeting that school administrators provide the board with data on suspension rates broken down by high school. The data was not made available to the public during the meeting, although a public spokeswoman said she would provide it later.

Board member Cornelia Bright Gordon then asked a series of questions that tried to pick apart the meaning of the suspension data and asked for additional numbers from Barbara Walker, who is in charge of county high schools.

But another member, Michael Collins, said he was not concerned with the suspension data and wanted to make the staff and principals in the room aware that "you have one on the board" that supports their decision to suspend students. He said high school students are given a handbook with the rules and that if they break the rules, they should be suspended. "I am not the least bit worried about suspensions," he said, adding "keep doing it."

Bright Gordon said she felt attacked and found his remarks "demeaning and inappropriate." She said she had the right to ask questions.

Collins shot back: "I am not attacking you or any other member. I have a distinctly different point of view." Finally, he added, "I am not attacking you one bit and get over it."


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:14 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 30, 2011

Baltimore County backs away from college planning seminars

Baltimore County Public Schools have backed away from a plan to let a for-profit college planning company offer free seminars at every high school in the county this year.

The Nevada-based College Access Online was scheduled to give 50 seminars over the course of the winter and spring at each high school, according to documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Parents and students in grades seven through 12 were to be invited to the seminars, which acccording to a schedule obtained by The Sun, were to begin at Hereford High School on Dec. 12.

A memo about the seminars was distributed to guidance counselors and principals in the past several weeks instructing them to review the schedule for the seminars to make sure the cafeteria or auditorium at their school was free. The memo said schools would be given scripts for email and voicemail blasts that could be sent to all parents. The seminars also were discussed with principals in a meeting.

But Roger Plunkett, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said yesterday: “Some people sent out a memo that was way too premature.” Plunkett said the system will not go forward with the plan. He said, “They were so many questions, so many things to consider. We have to look at all the school system’s policies and procedures.”

Continue reading "Baltimore County backs away from college planning seminars " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:29 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 23, 2011

Baltimore County school board investigates textbook purchases

At a meeting that was marked by unusually long public discussion, the Baltimore County school board members gave a clear message to school system staff on Tuesday night that they were not pleased with the waste of money on textbooks and rewriting of curriculum. Since the story published two weeks ago, school board members had clearly done some homework on their own to try to figure out what had caused mistakes to be made.

Board member Ramona Johnson said that she believes the curriculum revisions were meant to be limited to revisions that would include the novels that had just been purchased by the system. A review of what was being used in schools at the time indicated that students in some schools were exposed to the classics while others were not. The school system wanted to make sure there was equity, but a lack of leadership led to mistakes. Soon the teachers hired to write curriculum were setting off on a different course and doing a major rewrite, she believes.

Lawrence Schmidt, the school board president, had gone through years of board minutes and press releases from the Maryland State Department of Education to determine that the board had not been told about any curricula changes since 2008 and that statewide changes to the standards were widely known long before the county began to rewrite curricula.

In addition, it was revealed that the textbook purchases were made even before the curriculum was rewritten, a process that goes against the policies, according to the staff.

Both Johnson and Schmidt concluded that there was a failure in the chain of command and "resources were wasted." Schmidt said: "Our concern is to make sure the proceedures, protocals, processes are followed so that the taxpayers money is spent wisely."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:01 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 18, 2011

More Baltimore County parents upset by lack of air-conditioning

Anger over the lack of air-conditioning in Baltimore County high schools appears to be growing. At a recent school board meeting, a group of Pikesville High School parents and students came to ask the administration to consider placing small units in each classroom. About 45 percent of the county's schools are air conditioned, according to state statistics, the second lowest percentage in the state, just below Garrett County, the western most county in the state and one with the coolest temperatures.

Last month, a group of parents from Middleborough Elementary School went to a Board of Estimates meeting in Annapolis to try to block the county from spending money on a list of projects, none of which included air-conditioning a school.

Continue reading "More Baltimore County parents upset by lack of air-conditioning " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 11, 2011

Hrabowski on '60 Minutes'

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, who is often credited for his efforts to produce minority graduates in science, technology, engineering and math, will be featured this Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

You can watch a preview of the interview here.

In it, Hrabowski says, “I don’t care how smart you are, nothing takes the place of hard work.”

Hrabowski has been in the national spotlight numerous times over the past few years.

He recently received an academic leadership award from the Carnegie Corp. that came with a $500,000 grant. He is using the money to start the Freeman A. Hrabowski Fund for Academic Innovation, which will support creative endeavors in teaching and entrepreneurship on campus.

And in 2009, he was named one of America’s 10 best college presidents by Time magazine.


Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:11 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore County missteps on curriculum and textbooks

Baltimore County spent $5 million on a curriiculum and books even as the state was moving toward new standards. A state official warned all the school districts not to rewrite curriculum back in the spring of 2010, but the school system went ahead anyway. In fact, no warning should have been needed. Back in 2009, I began writing stories about the state signing on to the common core standards. Even though the standards weren't yet written, it was clear that Maryland's curriculum was about to change.  The question now is how many of the books that Barbara Dezmon picked out can be used with the common core and if any of the curriculum can be salvaged or is worth salvaging. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:39 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 9, 2011

Baltimore County elementary schools at 100 percent capacity

Baltimore County's overcrowding issue is only getting worse, according to figures released at last night's school board meeting. Elementary schools across the system are now at 100.12 percent capacity. So while the problem is concentrated in the northern area of the county along the York Road corridor, redrawing school lines would not help the situation. You'd have ever seat filled in every school.

Enrollment is still growing, and at a faster clip than expected. This September, 1,443 more elementary students turned up than last year, far more than the 358 the school system expected.

The total school enrollment went from 104,331 to 105,195 in the past year. Middle school enrollment ticked up 139 students and high school was down 648 students.   

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 27, 2011

Baltimore County art teachers sweep awards

Baltimore County, which has long been known for its excellence in the arts, swept the Maryland Art Teacher of the Year awards this year.

Laura Patacca-Kerr of Oakleigh Elementary School, Cecilia Terlizzi of Sudbrook Magnet Middle School and Ryan Twentey of Parkville High School each won for the elementary, middle and high school divisions.
Michael Bare was given the Retired Art Teacher award. Bare left Hereford High School last year after being excessed.

Linda Popp, the county's visual arts coordinator, said state awards are often given to teachers who make strong contributions to their communities as well as their schools. This year's winners mentored colleagues, coordinated exhibits and found other ways to take art into the community.
"Baltimore County has a history of having a really strong art program," she said. The county has outstanding art teachers,  as well as a very strong art curriculum that builds from first to 12th grade. The arts in the county have not been eliminated as they have in some other counties.
"We have a strong artistic community of teachers. They are artists. The collaborate with colleagues."
 Popp said teachers are given opportunities for professional develop and to mentor other teachers. "If we are taking care of the teachers then they are taking care of the kids," Popp said. "All kids deserve the best art."
 County art students have been national winners in the YoungArts competition sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. YoungArts selects only about 150 students from nine disciplines across the nation to participate in a free week long series of workshops each year. County students are also often chosen as regional and national winnners in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
What has made a difference to many students is the county's approach to teaching. Once students have a foundation, he said, teachers allow them to explore their own "personal aesthetic" rather than trying to shape the student's work. "We would not try to change their work but would find other artists that work in that genre," he said.  "Mentally, they start to understand that art is visual communication of an idea....The ultimate goal is to develop their artistic voice." Bare, who is an artist himself, said he is constantly amazed at the dialogue he has with his student artists.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 25, 2011

Baltimore County school board considers search firms

The Baltimore County school board may speed up its search for a new superintendent by using a contract Montgomery County employed to hire a well known search firm, according to school board chair Lawrence Schmidt. 

Montgomery County hired a new superintendent this year using the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea Associates. The same firm was used to hire superintendents in Frederick and Carroll counties and is involved in the search for a new state superintendent. Baltimore County used the firm 12 years ago when it hired Joe A. Hairston. 

 The county board first intended to go through the more lengthy process of soliciting bids from firms around the country, but Schmidt said the board could save time and money if it piggybacked on the Montgomery contract. Schmidt said the board needs more of its questions answered by the firm before it can decide whether to hire Hazard.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:09 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 24, 2011

Kamenetz and the golden doorknob comment

 County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in a meeting with the Perry Hall Improvement Association said he thought parents wanted schools to have golden doorknobs. The comments, reported by Patch, have been making the rounds of blogs and Facebook page postings.  On Wednesday at the Board of Public Works meeting, Comptroller Peter Franchot referred to the remark while criticizing Kamenetz for not using any of the $7 million in school construction dollars from the alcohol tax for air-conditioning in schools. The Comptroller, who has been mentioned as a candidate for governor, has been putting heat on the county to improve its climate control.

But Don Mohler, chief of staff for Kamenetz, said the county executive has used the golden doorknob reference on several occasions to express his concern that if the county switched from an appointed to an elected school board, the board might not be as fiscally prudent and would want golden doorknobs. But in a county where most schools aren't air-conditioned and class sizes have swelled this year with the cutting of 200 teacher positions, parents view the remark as out of touch.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 20, 2011

Middleborough Elementary parents and students fight for air-conditioning

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that a worn out, old school slated to be torn down next year is now being fought over by the public as the answer to overcrowding in the Towson area. The question, among parents at least, doesn't seem to be whether it should be torn down, but what it should become.

Carver, which was built as the first African American high school during desegregation, has had many lives and it appears to be on verge of having more. But the overcrowding in the central area is just one of the many facilities problems facing the county.

  Parents of Middleborough School students went to Annapolis yesterday to protest the inequities in a school system where less than half the schools still aren't air-conditioned. The students, who couldn't have been more eloquent, said they felt sweaty and tired when they went to school in hot classrooms. The Essex parents have taken their case to the County Executive and the school system

Continue reading "Middleborough Elementary parents and students fight for air-conditioning " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 12, 2011

Dezmon says get rid of AIM if you don't like it

Speaking at the public comment portion of the Baltimore County school board meeting on Tuesday night, Barbara Dezmon said she had come to the board because "there has been an air of cruelty." She said the Articulated Instruction Module, a computer program the school system developed from her copyrighted ideas, was being "misrepresented, maligned and defamed"  on blogs and websites.

Continue reading "Dezmon says get rid of AIM if you don't like it" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:50 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 11, 2011

Baltimore County school board voted no to new contract

Despite all the attention that Superintendent Joe Hairston has gotten in the last week, the question we will never answer is whether Hairston really wanted another four year contract or not. He told me he never wanted another contract last Thursday, but that was after Patch had written a short story that said the board had voted not to give him another contract.  Previously, he had told my colleague, Childs Walker, that he thought it was "unlikely" he would want another contract, but he didn't rule it out.  Sources said Hairston never made his intensions clear to the board before they voted just before school began not to offer him another four year contract. The question becomes why Hairston waited a month to make an announcement after he was informed of the board decision and after he had gotten advice earller this summer from both Kevin Kamenetz and Nancy Grasmick to get out in front of the decision.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:23 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 10, 2011

Baltimore County school employee salary database is now online

Would you like to know the salary of that outstanding teacher your child has this year or what teh colleague sitting next to you at Greenwood is making? Or maybe you are curious about how well the bus drivers are compensated. We've just posted a database with the salaries of all 17,000 employees of the Baltimore County school system  next to a story on average teacher salaries in the county. We aren't picking on the county schools. We have databases of lots of government employees online already.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:53 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 6, 2011

Hairston says he's planning to leave the system

I emailed Joe A. Hairston this afternoon and asked him whether he might want to comment on his future plans. He sent back an email that said he had never intended to seek another term. That was interesting given the fact that he wasn't willing to comment earlier on the week and told WBAL he had until February 1 to announce a decision. So I wrote a story saying he didn't plan to stay past June.  He has not yet talked to school board members, his staff or the county executive, so I was a bit surprised at the response.

Read the full story here. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:57 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore Co.’s school board task force meets today

From Baltimore County government reporter Alison Knezevich: 

Baltimore County’s task force on the selection of school board members is set to meet today at 4 p.m. at the Randallstown Community Center, after a controversial meeting last month.

In September, the board took an unexpected vote on the selection issue, ruling out having at least a partially elected board. Members who support a hybrid board weren’t at the meeting to weigh in. The group could reverse the vote today.

One task force member, former County Executive Jim Smith, sent a final proposal to the task force earlier this week. Smith wants to reduce board members’ terms from five years to three, and cut the board’s size from 11 members to nine. Smith, who opposes an elected school board and called for the vote last month, recommends that the governor appoint all members after getting suggestions from a nominating committee.  Click here to read the entire proposal, which was sent to The Sun.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 16, 2011

Balt. Co. Council members protest school board task force vote

A recent unannounced vote by a legislative task force that ruled out changing the Baltimore County school board to at least partly elected is being protested by four County Council members.

Members of the School Board Task Force abruptly decided Friday against recommending the addition of any elected board members. The group was created to explore ways that the recently embattled school board could be more transparent and responsive to the public.

County lawmakers said in a letter Thursday that they would like to see the action reversed and a new vote taken. The letter signed by Vicki Almond, David Marks, Todd Huff and Cathy Bevins expressed "disappointment" that there was no advanced notice of a meeting, the vote did not appear on the meeting's agenda, and three voting members were absent, including a County Council representative.

"The issue of direct elections is central to any discussion of school board reform," the letter read. "There are different viewpoints among members of the county council, but one thing is certain: our representative should have been given the opportunity to vote."

To read the full letter, click here.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 9, 2011

Baltimore County task force votes on hybrid board

Baltimore County's task force on the selection of school board members unexpectedly voted today against recommending a hybrid board. Some members say opponents forced through a vote when they knew the vote would go their way. Several members who supported a hybrid board were not present at the meeting. More details will appear later tonight at the Baltimore Sun website and in the paper tomorrow.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 2, 2011

Recent graduate of Dundalk says the school changed in four years

I received an email from Dundalk High School's salutatorian yesterday and I wanted to share with readers what he wrote after reading my story in Sunday's paper about Dundalk's turnaround.

Dear Ms. Bowie:

  Let me give you a little background about myself before I launch into the real reason I am writing you. I was the Salutatorian of the Class of 2011 of Dundalk High School. I took at an FBLA team to the National Competition this year in Orlando, Florida under the tutelage of Mr. Patrick Holt. I received several scholarships from Dundalk and attended the CTE dinner for my work in conjunction with my education at Sollers. I am by no means the average DHS student, but I still have a passion for the school and the teachers that have so greatly impacted my life. I am currently studying Church Ministries at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida.

As a recent graduate of Dundalk High, I can tell you personally how your article on its improvement has impacted me. I started as a freshman at DHS in the fall of 2007, a short whilte before the restructuring was ordered. I would simply like to take a moment and let you know from the perspective of a student that has seen both sides of the restructuring about the incredible change that has taken place in that institution.


Continue reading "Recent graduate of Dundalk says the school changed in four years" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:15 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

August 24, 2011

Baltimore County school board tries for better community relations

Lawrence Schmidt, school board president, is responding to criticism that the board has insulated itself from the public by making two changes.

First, the board will travel around the county to hold its meetings. The next meeting, on September 6, will be at Eastern Technical High School and the following meeting will move to New Town High School.

The board also will be changing its policy to allow public comment at the beginning of every meeting rather than the end of every other meeting. Schmidt said this will give the public a chance to comment on a policy before the votes, rather than after. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

School system may cap enrollment at West Towson

At last night's Baltimore County school board meeting, administrators said that if more students continue to enroll at West Towson this fall, they may cap the enrollment. Such an action would mean that families who move into the area zoned for West Towson would not be allowed to go there, but would be sent to another school. West Towson, which opened last year primarily to relieve crowding at Rodgers Forge Elementary, is apparently now the hot school to go to. So this action, if taken, could really frustrate parents. Of course, West Towson was the school that parents fought two years ago to keep their students out of because they wanted them at the familiar Rodgers Forge.

In any event, West Towson now has 50 students more than it was built to handle, and perhaps more in the coming days will show up to register. But for safety reasons, the school cannot add trailers in the back. There's very little space on the site.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

August 10, 2011

Rearranging the furniture in Baltimore County

Members of the public seem to be encouraged that the new president and vice-president of the Baltimore County school board are trying to be more accessible and transparent. Last night parents applauded the fact that the board voted to adopt a new policy for the use of facilities that is a far cry from the one that caused so much outrage six months ago. Stoneleigh parents also were happy that their school is fifth on the list to get money for a new addition.

But what didn't get applause was the new security measures that include rearranging the furniture so that a barrier could be put up between the public and the board.
The furniture was rearranged so that the press table is a little farther away (with a better view, I have to add). In addition, the chairs open to the public are set back farther from where the board sits.

The barrier is made of poles with black tape, the type usually seen at airports that herd people through security or into a line in front of airline counters. The symbolism wasn't lost on two people who spoke during the public comment time and thought the  barriers were yet another way to keep the board separated from the public. Members of the public have already been critical of the fact that emails to board members are screened by the administration first.

One new board member, Michael Collins, suggested that the security barriers would never keep the public away. Anyone could knock them over, he said. He's right. So why put them up?
I asked.

Continue reading "Rearranging the furniture in Baltimore County " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:05 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

August 3, 2011

Task force debates merits of hybrid, elected and appointed board

The Maryland General Assembly task force to look into whether the county should move from an appointed school board to an elected or hybrid one met informally tonight for a spirited discussion of the pros and cons of each option. No decisions were made and no votes taken, and it is clear that there are still deep divisions among the members as well as a number of members who have not made up their minds.

While Sen. Bobby Zirkin is a strong proponent of a hybrid board, other members are not as sure that an elected board would be better. Here are some of the major issues the members of the task force discussed for more than two hours:


Continue reading "Task force debates merits of hybrid, elected and appointed board" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:34 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 27, 2011

Baltimore County continues to hire for jobs outside the classroom

In today's Baltimore Sun I write about how the county school system has hired 35 more people at an annual salary cost of about $1.9 million while cutting nearly 200 teaching positions. What has made some parents upset is that the school system cut teachers first when it needed to find some cost savings, rather than spreading the pain around the system. The second question that might be asked is whether there are programs that could have been cut in order to save classroom teaching positions. The system currently has 36 vacancies, and presumably could freeze those jobs, or at least some of them, in order to cut back on the teaching positions they need to eliminate. But by August 1, most of the damage will be done because after that date, teachers who were in their jobs cannot return to their schools. So all of the excessed teachers will have been removed from their schools and the student schedules will have been finished for the coming year. All excessed teachers who are put back into a school because there aren't places for them elsewhere - and there are still 20 of those left at this moment - will end up being one of the overstaffed teachers. The term overstaffed means that you can't be given a class because you could have to be yanked out and put into a different classroom if there's a vacancy somewhere else in the system.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:21 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 26, 2011

Baltimore County task force report on hybrid school board

Baltimore Sun reporter Raven Hill has posted a item about the last public hearing on whether legislation should be passed to make the appointed school board a hybrid or elected school board.

A task force is looking into the issue and will report back to the legislature next year.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 22, 2011

Shake up in administrators in Baltimore County schools

Baltimore County appears to be shaking up some of its top administrators. 

Tom Rhoades, the executive director of research and accountability, for the Baltimore County public schools is no longer working for the school system. Word is that he was given 30 days notice that he would have to leave.

Michael Goodhues, chief information officer for the Office of Technology, was moved to be the fiscal officer in the Department of Fiscal Services.

I haven't been able to learn why the changes, but the school system did just get a new deputy superintendent.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:25 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 13, 2011

New Baltimore County school board president addresses transparency concerns

From Sun reporter Raven L. Hill, who attended last night's Baltimore County school board meeting:

New Baltimore County Board of Education president Lawrence Schmidt addressed some of the  criticism that’s been directed at the panel over the last several months over a lack of transparency.

"I think I speak for all of the board members when I say that we hear you," he said. "We hear complaints about transparency, accountability, accessibility and I will give you my pledge that we will work and I will work to try to improve on those things in the next year that I am president to improve the board’s function and its relationship with its constituencies and its students.

"With that being said, I guess I would say that I think there’s always a certain amount of confusion about the role of the board. … There are many occasions where we are prohibited either under law or ethically from commenting on certain issues that may come before us. So, please don’t take our silence as a symptom of not caring, but knowing that we are bound by the rules and regulations and laws by which we are governed."

What do you think about the school board's transparency in the past and going forward, now that new leadership has been put into place?


Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:10 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 10, 2011

Baltimore County school board task force begins work

The task force charged with exploring a new structure for the Baltimore County school board began meeting last week, taking comments from the public on how the recently embattled group could better respond to residents' concerns.

According to a story by our Baltimore County reporter Raven Hill, the recent frustrations with the county school board spilled over at the meeting, with residents sounding off about the lack of accountability and transparency of the board. Still, there is no consensus about whether the board should be a hybrid of elected and governor-appointed members.

The next public hearings will be held on July 25 at the Towson library, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Comments may also be sent by mail or email to state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier's office.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 17, 2011

Every penny or postage stamp counts in Baltimore County

I got a letter, yes a snail mail letter, recently from a parent in Baltimore County, who is suggesting a way for the school system to save money. She has three children in the same elementary school. She said she received three separate letters mailed to her house on the week of May 16th from the school system - one for each child. Each letter contained a form letter for her to fill out in order to update current contact information. Apparently, the letters were sent out around the school system, because a relative of hers with children in the southwest area received the same letters.

She thinks this was a waste of paper and stamps. If the parents of every child were sent letters, she calculates the school system spent $45,900 or more on postage, about the salary of a beginnning teacher. And wouldn't there be a faster better way to get the same informaiton updated? Perhaps the letter could have come home with the mailing of the fourth quarter report cards, she wrote.

Continue reading "Every penny or postage stamp counts in Baltimore County " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:51 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 15, 2011

No more counting jello as fruit in Baltimore County

A group of parents working with the county schools to improve the lunch menu for children has had some small victories this year. Susanna DeRocco spoke before the school board last night to say that the county had agreed to stop putting whipped topping, which is really whipped high fructose corn syrup, on fruit and other items it serves kids. The other change is that schools won't pass off jello as fruit.

The group, called the Baltimore County Healthy Kids Coalition, has also obtained from BCPS the ingredient list for most of its entrees.  DeRocco said: "Because this information is not currently on the BCPS website and because we received a number of requests for this information, the Coalition posted the ingredient list, along with commentary from a registered dietician to help parents and students make more informed decisions about the menu selections offered."

The website for the Coalition has more information.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 9, 2011

Sweltering: classrooms are 88 degrees at 8:30 am

Laurie Taylor Mitchell, a parent who has been on the war path about the lack of air-conditioning at Ridgely Middle School and other schools around Baltimore County, sent out an email this morning with details of just how hot it is today in school.

Here it is:

The latest from Ridgely Middle School classrooms, Thursday, June 9:

7:38 a.m., one classroom is 86 degrees, without any students yet.

At 8:28 a.m. another classroom is already 88 degrees with 58% humidity, resulting in a Heat Index of 94 degrees.  School will be in session for almost four more hours. 

These are the conditions frequently endured by these children and teachers at Ridgely on hot days, for nearly four years now. 
Do you know what the classroom temperatures are in your child’s school if it does not have air conditioning?

 I have an update:

 According to an email I received this weekend, the temperatures at Ridgely were 85 degrees or above for most of the week and heat index rose to 116 one day.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:55 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 1, 2011

Hairston addresses Baltimore County delegation

From Sun Reporter Mary Gail Hare: 

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston told legislators that the district may have been too rigid in enforcing a policy on use of school facilities that led to some fundraisers being canceled, one of numerous topics he addressed during a meeting Tuesday.

Hairston described the meeting held at school headquarters in Towson, scheduled at the county delegation's request, "a courtesy and a good-faith effort to reaffirm our transparency." The school system has come under fire recently from legislators and parents for a perceived lack of openness.

Read how Hairston's addressed the county school system's recent controversies in today's story .

Posted by Erica Green at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 30, 2011

Legislators to meet with Hairston

On Tuesday, Baltimore County's superintendent, Joe A. Hairston, is expected to meet with the county delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. The meeting will be at 4 p.m. at Greenwood and is expected to be open to the public. Hairston will be answering questions the delegation asked him during the session in a brief meeting. The delegation asked for a longer meeting when they had more time. I will guess that cuts in teacher positions are likely to be one of the subjects up for discussion. With high school schedules soon to be completed, Hairston doesn't have much time to put positions back into the high schools. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 26, 2011

Baltimore County Council expresses concern for its lack of control over school spending

The county council released its budget message today. The council members, most of whom are new this year, said they were frustrated with the school system on a number of fronts, but they stopped short of taking any action to cut administrative costs in the school system.

Some members had suggested to Superintendent Joe A. Hairston that he look for cuts in administrative dollars in the budget rather than move 196 teachers, mostly in the high schools, as well as not fund another 55 positions that would be needed to maintain class sizes.

The chairman of the council, John Olsweski said "that the state law places many roadblocks in the path of a local government's demand for accountability for the funds it provides for its public schools."

He said that even though the county is required to supply the funds for schools "accountability for the efficent use of these funds is, sadly, not a part of the equation."


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 16, 2011

Hairston and school board to be grilled on teacher cuts

A lawmaker suggested in an interview for a story today that Hairston's cuts to teaching positions was a personal swipe at the teachers' union that has so angered him in the past couple of years. Perhaps his judgement is now clouded, he said.

I don't know what Hairston's motivation is or what the school board's thought process is because they haven't been willing to come before the public and explain why they decided to cut teachers before administrative positions. But tomorrow we will find out as Hairston gets a grilling before the County Council to say whether or not he and the board have decided to find money to fund some of the positions. There's lots at stake for kids, teachers, parents and the elected officials have argued. But there's' also a lot at stake for the board and Hairston, who are both likely to come under increasing criticism if they don't make an effort to restore cuts.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 12, 2011

Dulaney and Franklin high schools get new principals

There's a lot of reshuffling of principals and assistant principals going on in Baltimore County. Tuesday night the school board approved the transfer of Dulaney's principal, Patrick S. McCusker, to Franklin and Lansdowne's principal, Lynda Whitlock, to Dulaney.

In the dance of the elementary school principals: Susan Smith is moving from Middlesex to Edgemere; Yasmin Stokes is moving from Powhatan to Edmondson Heights; Cheryl Jones is moving from Riverview to Middlesex; Mary Maddox is moving from Johnnycake To Riverview and David Parker is moving from Edmondson Heights to Powhatan. Stacey Durkovic, the principal at Prettyboy is going to bcome the principal at Carney and Robert Findley, principal at Edgemere, goes to Fifth District.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:10 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 15, 2011

A message to county teachers: Stay Focused.

A Baltimore County middle school teacher contacted me today to say that her paycheck had a message from School Superintendent Joe A. Hairston on the pay check stub. The stub read: "Message from Dr. Hairston: Stay focused."

She found this puzzling.  Today, she said, she was hoping for a nice message wishing her a good break. "Times are tough in BCPS," she said. Teachers are being excessed, class sizes are about to rise, she said. The MSA testing is done for the year, so even a small thank you would have been appreciated, she said.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:15 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 12, 2011

County Council questions school budget director

From our colleague Raven L. Hill, who covers Baltimore County government:

UPDATED at 7 p.m. Tuesday:

Baltimore County Council members had a message Tuesday for the local school system: Cut back on top-level administrative positions.

With the county’s proposed budget scheduled for release in a few days, Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. had tough questions at the council’s work-session meeting for Baltimore County Public Schools budget director George Sarris.

Olszewski questioned Sarris, who was at the meeting for an unrelated issue, about the anticipated savings from eliminating more than 196 teacher positions, saying that he’d been told the district will save more than the estimated $15.8 million.

“If that’s the case,” Olszewski said, “then I want to know where that money is going.”

Sarris said that was not the case, adding that an average salary of $61,336 was used to calculate the savings. The jobs will be cut through attrition, not firings or layoffs.

However, Olszewski, an Edgemere Democrat, also expressed concern that the district was not doing enough to keep its costs in check, saying that long-vacant administrative positions should be frozen. Citing the recent hiring of Deputy Superintendent Renee Foose, whose position had been open for nine months, the council chairman also suggested that the district hold off on filling a liberal arts director position and deputy area superintendent for middle schools. Foose will be paid $214,000 annually.

“If we’re going to have less teachers then the common-sense approach should be less administrative individuals as well,” he said. “If sacrifices have to be made then they have to be made all the way around, not just in particular groups.”

The local teachers union and some members of the county’s state legislative delegation have called for the school system to restore some teaching jobs by cutting back on administrative costs. County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, has said the county can’t afford to restore the positions in his budget plan, which is scheduled for introduction this week.

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver, a Randallstown Democrat, recommended combining some top-level positions, and asked Sarris whether the district is using operating funds for some testing and assessment materials that could be purchased with grants. Sarris replied that the district was not.

Reached after the meeting, schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said the district has implemented numerous cost-saving measures over the past year, such as not adding new programs.

The school system restructured the executive team to reduce the number of top-level administrators from 12 to 9 and gave teachers raises, Hairston said.

“We have not cut any teachers. There have been no layoffs of teachers, there have been no furloughs of teachers,” he said. “We’ve been consistent with our message since the beginning of our budget presentation in January. The budget was designed to preserve teaching positions and programs, and we used $15 million to pass on salary increments to teachers and staff.”

Olszweski said he wants any excess savings to go toward keeping teacher jobs.

“We know we can’t restore all of those positions, but if we can restore a few I think that’s heading in the right direction,” Olszewski said.

The school district and council will meet next month to discuss the budget.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 3:43 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 7, 2011

Kamenetz tells legislators he will not restore 196 teaching positions

There's a late development in the dispute over cuts to high school teaching positions. Tonight Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz wrote to state legislators saying the county can't come up with the money to fund the nearly 200 positions that have been cut. He blames the county school system, in part, because it appears to have underestimated by $9 million how much it will cost to fund employee health care next school year. And, without going into all of the details of the Thornton funding formula and costs the state is shifting to counties, he says the bottom line is that education funding is not going up enough to offset the cost of an increase of 600 students next fall.  I filed a story on line now and in tomorrow's paper that explains the ramifications that are being felt at Lansdowne High School in southwest Baltimore County.  

Parents, students and teachers across the county had hoped that Kamenetz would put pressure on the school board and School Superintendent Joe A. Hairston to perhaps cut some adminstrative positions instead of teachers in schools. Behind the scenes, school employees and parents began to think that a bargain could be struck. 


Continue reading "Kamenetz tells legislators he will not restore 196 teaching positions " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:00 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

Hairston to meet with Baltimore County legislators in private meeting Friday morning

After having called School Superintendent Joe A. Hairston on the carpet during two public meetings, delegates to the Maryland General Assembly have agreed to meet behind closed doors with him tomorrow morning, according to The Towson Times.

Delegates had asked Hairston to explain why he is cutting teaching positions and not administrative positions in next year's budget. Parent Laurie Taylor-Mitchell said in an email that she hopes the legislators will let the public know the result of the meeting.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:24 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 25, 2011

Another hot spring for some Baltimore County schools

Despite the best efforts of parents who lobbied politicians to put money in the budget this year for air conditioning for Ridgely Middle, it will be September before the students and faculty there will feel any cool breeze.

It isn't clear what has gone wrong, according to Julie Sugar, the former PTA president at Ridgely. She says that everything seemed to be on schedule for the school to have the chillers installed by spring. The bids went over the course of the fall for several schools and were voted on by the board. Ten schools are supposed to get air-conditioning this year, and several contracts have been approved by the board.  The board approved Ridgely's contract in January.

Sugar said parents were "shocked" when they learned in the past week that installation might not be finished until September because temperatures have been over 100 on some days. "We are very confused. We have asked a lot of people questions," she said.

Charles Herndon, a spokesman for the school system, said "it was a timing issue."

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:22 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 24, 2011

Baltimore county students to rally against school cuts

Students at Towson High School have planned to stand against proposed teacher and class cuts in Baltimore County schools on Monday, by protesting for county lawmakers, including County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, to intervene.

The rally is scheduled to take place from 4:30p.m. - 5:30 p.m. outside of Kamenetz's office, at the Old Courthouse in Towson, which is located at 400 Washington St.

Baltimore County high schools are beginning to decide which classes — likely the electives and small Advanced Placement courses — they won't be able to afford next year, as they begin eliminating as much as 10 percent of their faculty.

The reduction to the teaching force is being felt hardest at the high schools, where class sizes will rise from an average of 26 this year to 29 next year, according to budget documents. Elementaries, which the system protected from cuts through second grade, stand to gain five teachers overall because enrollment is growing. Cuts to middle school teachers will be larger than the elementaries but smaller than the high schools.

According to a Facebook event, created by two Towson High school students, the mission of the rally is:

"If you are upset about losing your teachers and possibly some classes, you are not alone. All BCPS high schools are being impacted. Please come out to support your teachers, your school, and funding for your education this Monday! EVEN IF YOU CANNOT COME, INVITE ALL YOUR FRIENDS. Numbers matter."

On Thursday, at least 139 students had signed up.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

Rodriguez a finalist for superintendent's job in Colorado

Manuel Rodriguez. an assistant superintendent in charge of the middle schools in Baltimore County, is a finalist for a job of superintendent in a school system of 1,300 students in Trinidad, Colorado. Here's the story in the local paper talking about interviews with the three finalists. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:04 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 21, 2011

County will reconsider ban on craft fairs

My colleague, Andrea Walker, was at the school board retreat on Saturday when the board discussed the craft fair policy that has caused a stir in the community in the past several months. The board decided to have one of its subcommittees look into the issue, but that doesn't mean the school system will reverse itself on the policy.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:29 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 20, 2011

Baltimore County lawmakers demand answers from Hairston

In the wake of my colleague Liz Bowie's story that revealed the $214,000 salary of a recently hired Baltimore County schools deputy superintendent, the backlash from taxpayers and lawmakers has been-a-brewing.

There has been a strong reaction to the salary, which comes as the county is leaving teaching positions vacant, while the county's administrative costs were found to be among the highest in the state.

On Friday, we wrote about how several county lawmakers expressed their concern to county schools superintendent Joe Hairston. They said that county residents understandably find his filling a $214,000 position in this economic climate "appalling."

They also demanded that Hairston address how communications team chooses to deal with the media--namely that it takes a month to get one salary, and that access to information about taxpayer-funded activity must be made in writing. Other media outlets have also made public their conflicts with the county school system.

It will be interesting to hear if Hairston responds, and what his explanations will be. I'm sure Liz will keep you all updated. 

Posted by Erica Green at 4:24 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 17, 2011

Baltimore County administration costs higher than most in state

First, the news is out. The salary of the new deputy superintendent that Baltimore County took a month to release came in an e-mail late Wednesday from the county attorney. Embedded among 291 salaries was Renee Foose's at $214,000.

And for those county employees who make over $80,000 a year and work outside of a school, I know you got an email from Phyllis Reese saying that the school system had to release the data. And she is right, they do. What she didn't mention was that the system didn't release any names, just job titles. Second, The Sun has been collecting the same data for lots of government agencies. So no, I don't plan on publishing everyone's job title and salary in the newspaper tomorrow or any time in the near future. 

Even before Foose's salary was released, I decided to mine the Maryland State Department of Education data for statistical data on individual school systems around the state, to see how Balitmore County administrative spending compares. You will have to look at the Analysis of Costs chart to find the information I used in the story. I found that the county ranks fourth overall for the amount it spends on administration. It ranks far lower in mid-level administration and spending on teacher pay. The bottom line is that the system doesn't pay its mid-level managers and teachers a lot compared to other districts, but they do spend a lot on upper level management. There's more interesting data that can be found here on the state's website for those who are interested in sorting through lots and lots of numbers. But one more report of interest is the professional salaries comparisons, including superintendent salaries here.

And if you would like to take a look at the study that Ulrich Bosen did on 9,000 districts around the nation and how efficiently they spend their money, here it is. A study that came to a very different conclusion is here. So for all those who love data, go to it.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:07 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 15, 2011

Sunshine week and the Baltimore County schools

Patch reporter Bryan Sears has written an interesting blog item on the difficulty in getting a simple piece of information - the salary of a high ranking administrator - out of the school system. You may recall a post I wrote some weeks ago about the school system's failure to give me the salary for Renee Foose, who was recently hired as the deputy superintendent.  It seems Sears has had the same difficulty as he details in his blog. Sears quotes spokeswoman Phyllis Reese as saying: "It will be a cold day in hell" before he gets the salary figure unless he files a public information act request. When taxpayer dollars are spent on salaries, the public gets to know how much those salaries and benefits cost.  Reporters don't like to file requests under the public information act, in general, because then the government body has 30 days to respond. It makes reporting a slow process.  

But I went along and filed the formal request under the public information act and did get a response today, sent to me by snail mail, from the school system's attorney. She said that the contract with Foose had not been completed so the school system didn't have anything to give The Sun. It seemed to stretch credulity that Foose took a job without knowing what her salary would be, contract or no contract.

I complained in an email, and was told that the contract will be signed in the next day and I will get the salary information then. I will post the information here.

Continue reading "Sunshine week and the Baltimore County schools " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:01 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 13, 2011

Teacher reductions in Baltimore County high schools

Some Baltimore County high school principals have been calling teachers down to the office to tell them they have been excessed as detailed in a story today. Other principals have been holding  the information close to the vest, perhaps because they have not finished doing schedules that will tell them how many students have signed up for each class. But teachers in those schools tell me that the process of not knowing has been stressful. 

The cuts were dished out evenly over the schools, with declining and increasing enrollments taken into account when the number of positions a school would get was calculated. In addition to the teacher cuts in a chart that accompanies the story, the county has excessed 30 of the 66 mentor teachers in schools. So many schools will see a reduction in the total staff that is greater than the teacher cuts. Schools with larger numbers of new teachers will be particularly hard it by the shifting of mentors.  I have gotten a lot of different numbers from different sources. I went with what I got from the union because it had a number for each school, and Cheryl Bost said she thought the numbers were pretty accurate.  The union's data seemed to be between the worst case scenerios I heard and the best case scenerios. For instance, the number of teachers who will be excessed at Dulaney ranged from 11 to 17.  The union said the reductions at Dulaney would be 13.5 teachers.


Continue reading "Teacher reductions in Baltimore County high schools " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:51 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 10, 2011

Kamenetz proposes a solution for overcrowding

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has asked the school system to consider moving fifth graders at crowded elementary schools to middle schools, many of which have space. The letter was sent yesterday to School Superintendent Joe A. Hairston and school board president Earnest Hines. Kamenetz says the county should consider ways to utilize the space it has before building new schools or additions. Parents at some of the elementary schools immediately criticised the idea, although fifth through eighth grade schools are a common middle school model around the country.  I have been getting emails parents who would rather have a tax hike than live with facilities that are outdated. Others note that the Hampton Elementary School addition will cost the county $12 million, not $20 million as Kamenetz says. And Stoneleigh parents have said the school desperately needs renovations, whether or not an addition is built. I hope that those who support the solutions being proposed by Kamenetz and those opposed will begin a dialogue here.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:47 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 8, 2011

Baltimore County slow to release information

Two weeks ago, I requested that the Baltimore County school district provide me with the salary of Renee Foose, who was hired to be a deputy superintendent of schools recently. I got no response so last week I asked again and was told I had to file a Freedom of Information Act request. The county now has 30 days to provide me with the information. Salary information is routinely provided by government agencies to newspaper reporters without such unnecessary delay because tax dollars go to fund these salaries. The public has a right to know how much top officials make.

A good example of this access is the hiring several months ago of a Sun editor by Howard County. A Sun reporter wrote the story and the salary information was online that day.

If I had asked the same question of the Baltimore City schools, the information would be provided the same day or at most the next day. The same would be true in most other large county school districts in Maryland.

So what reason does Baltimore County have in holding off for as much as six weeks to make this information public? They say they have a policy. We'll let you know when we see it.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:46 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

Parents go to County Council to get change in school policy

My colleague, Mary Gail Hare, provided the following post:

Baltimore County parents, frustrated with a lack of response from school administrators, took their pitch for more accessibility to school facilities to the Council Council Monday. They demanded a reversal of school policy that prevents them from holding fundraisers, community meetings, even some student gatherings in school buildings.

"In this economy and in the face of budget cuts, now is not the time to ban safe and successful parent group-sponsored craft fairs and flea markets," said Leslie Weber, PTSA president at Loch Raven High, which received a one-year waiver and will hold its craft fair on March 26.

Continue reading "Parents go to County Council to get change in school policy" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 17, 2011

Montgomery administrator appointed deputy superintendent in Baltimore County

Renee A. Foose, associate superintendent of the Office of Shared Accountability in Montgomery County, was recently put in charge of the business operations for the Baltimore County school system. Foose's official job title is deputy superintendent. She replaces J. Robert Haines who retired last summer. I asked the Baltimore County school system for her salary, but I haven't gotten a response. I will post it here when I do. I also asked Montgomery County for a resume for Foose, but so far no response from there either.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:26 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 10, 2011

Manuel Rodriguez on list for Michigan school district superintendent's job

Manuel Rodriguez, who oversees middle schools in Baltimore County, is being interviewed this week for a job as superintendent in Ann Arbor, Michigan. An Ann Arbor website posted the story last night. The school system is a small one, with only 16,000 students.

UPDATE: Rodriguez was not one of the three finalists for the job.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:51 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 8, 2011

County did not seek competitive bids for software contract

We have just posted a story on the website that details how a Georgia company, hand picked by Joe A. Hairston, was awarded a contract without a competitive bidding process. The company, owned by a former employee of Hairston's, has been paid at least $4 million since November 2000. Any thoughts?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:32 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 7, 2011

Baltimore County school board to discuss craft fair policy

The school system will give a report tomorrow night on a newly enforced policy that is prohibiting school PTSAs from holding craft fairs in the county and has drawn a lot of criticism in recent weeks. A group of parents from the central area is trying to encourage a big turnout to protest the policy, which parents say is reducing the money they can raise to supplement school budgets at a time of diminishing revenues. In addition, they say the fairs have helped foster community involvement in the schools.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:05 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 1, 2011

Robocalls at 7:15 am to notify parents of school closures

If you are the parent of a Baltimore County student or a staff member, you may have checked the website around 6 or 6:30 am this morning and found that schools were opening two hours late.

But for those who plunged back into their pillows, the phone rang at 7:15 am. In fact, phones began ringing all over the county as the robocalls went out to say that school was canceled.  Charles Herndon, a public information officer, said that call was "a bit unusual," but "we believed it was important to let everyone know as soon as possible and in the most direct way possible."

He said the initial decision was made at 4:45 am, but the transportation folks out in the field were asked to report back on conditions at 6:30 am. After the reports of poor conditions came in, the system decided at 6:45 am to close for the day.

Herndon, who is also a parent, said he got a Robocall from himself at 7:15.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:58 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 31, 2011

Frustration over lack of school board accountability

There's a Facebook page for everything these days, and that includes one for those who want to vent frustration at the school board and hash out the pros and cons of a hybrid school board in Baltimore County. The Facebook page says: "Meeting after meeting, it has become apparent that our teachers, our PTA's, our parents, our students and even our legislators have no influence on policy and decisions made by Baltimore County Public Schools."

In an email today, Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, a parent and frequent critic of the system, is encouraging anyone who has an opinion on the subject to post their comments on the page. The Facebook Page is called Citizens for An Accountable Baltimore County School Board!

Continue reading "Frustration over lack of school board accountability " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 20, 2011

Stoneleigh parents protest school overcrowding

The Baltimore County parent protests about overcrowding continued last night at the budget hearing at Ridge Ruxton and this time the complaints came from Stoneleigh Elementary School parents. The school community was waiting its turn, hoping that after West Towson was complete and the cramped and croweded Hampton had been expanded, an addition to Stoneleigh would start this fall. But when the parents look at the facilities budgets for the coming fiscal year beginning in July, they don't see Stoneleigh on the list. So they think that relief may be more years away than was anticipated. Parents say that isn't acceptable. The cafeteria is being used from 10:30 am to 1:30 pm., the bathrooms are overused, the classrooms jammed and the nurse has been assigned to an office the size of a closet.  Meetings, they say, are held in the lobby.

Next year the enrollment is expected to grow again and the staff is planning to simply divide existing classrooms by partitions which will make learning difficult for those who are distracted by noise.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 13, 2011

Rising class sizes possible in Baltimore County

The budget introduced last night by Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston would save money by reducing the teaching staff by about 200 through attrition. Cheryl Bost, the union president, said she wants to look at the numbers more carefully, but that the reduction may only take the staffing levels to where they were before the enrollment began to dip some years back. In other words, the county school system didn't reduce the teaching staff in the past several years when the number of kids in classrooms went down. However, there's still plenty of worry to go around. First, it isn't clear if Bost's theory will turn out to be correct. There will be 200 fewer teachers and roughly 1,400 more students. In addition, our high schools may feel the worst of the class increases. And high school classes are already some of the largest. One parent of a higher schooler complained last night in an interview that her son had one class with 35 students in it. During a visit during American Education Week she had seen just how disconnected he was to what was going on in the class. And another parent worried what greater burden that would mean for teachers with more papers to grade and more students to keep track of.

While the General Assembly has yet to act, there's plenty of reason to believe that some cuts to education are likely. That would mean far more drastic cuts than Hairston is now proposing and they could come rather quickly just before the budget passes in March.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:46 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 11, 2011

Milford Mill Academy construction costs escalate

Milford Mill Academy students will get an addition to their high school completed, but not without months of extra construction at the school and more disruption and inconvenience to staff and students at the school.  Today's story on the delay details the extra millions of dollars the school system may spend on the project.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:06 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 5, 2011

Parents urge Baltimore County Council to deal with aging and overcrowded school facilities

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, parent of a Loch Raven High School junior, urged members of the Baltimore County Council to visit schools in their districts and lobby strenuously for whatever improvements those schools might need.

At the council session Monday, she criticized education administrators for their failure to address longstanding infrastructure problems, such as the crowded cafeteria at Randallstown High, where students buy lunch from vending machines because they cannot get through a cafeteria line in time to return to class. She decried the numerous portable classrooms that force children into long lines at bathrooms and the numerous schools that still lack air-conditioning. "It will take compassion and courage, from all of you, to insist on finding more revenue for school infrastructure,"she told the council. "The status quo is untenable. Every child attending public school in this county should have a classroom with a healthy learning environment."

-- Mary Gail Hare

Continue reading "Parents urge Baltimore County Council to deal with aging and overcrowded school facilities" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 8, 2010

School board attorney says Hairston had authority to sign legal agreement on AIM

At last night's Baltimore County school board meeting, the school board's outside legal counsel said that Joe A. Hairston acted within his legal authority when he signed an agreement with former employee Barbara Dezmon. The agreement gives Dezmon the right to market a product that she had the idea for, but that county employees turned into a software program.

School board members said they hoped this put the issue to rest. However, critics may well say that one of the most important issues is whether Hairston should have signed the agreement because it offered a special deal to an employee.

What do readers believe? 


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:52 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 17, 2010

Hairston interview with the Patch

In a recent interview with the The Patch, Joe Hairston is described as saying that he sees the controversy over AIM "as an unwanted distraction that has been eliciting strong feelings that he equated to people's hatred to 'Hitler.'"  The superintendent says he believes that the focus should shift to education and away from AIM.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:56 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 11, 2010

Parent critical of Hairston and school board

At the Baltimore County school board meeting this week, parent David Greene took a shot at both superintendent Joe A. Hairston and the school board.

 Greene was angry that Hairston had refused to be interviewed by the Maryland Attorney General's office about questions concerning the ethics of giving an employee, Barbara Dezmon, a copyright to a computer software product called the Articulated Instruction Module.  Hairston did go on WJZ, however, and suggest that race was an issue. "Dezmon used the word 'lynching' and Hairston used the word 'race.'" Greene said. "These are serious words with serious implications, so I am sure the board asked some questions."

 At that point in the three minute presentation before the board, Greene stopped and asked the board president if he believed there was a basis for the comments about race. There was silence. "I have a request for this board: that you do what we hired you to do and explain to Superintendent Joe Hairston that he must either respond to the ethics inquiry or resign," Greene said.

The board, by the way, wasn't hired. It is appointed and doesn't get paid. The panel did not respond in public session.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:52 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 4, 2010

Hairston interviewed on Attorney General's letter

WJZ's Adam May had an interview  with Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston last night in which the school leader responded to concerns that he has refused to be interviewed by the Attorney General over AIM. He  seems to suggest that race is an issue.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:55 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 3, 2010

New sign gets a lot of buzz

My story yesterday about the electric sign in front of West Towson and Ridge Ruxton schools seems to have gotten a lot of attention. It cost $35,000 which seems to have outraged readers, but I can't help thinking that maybe the interest has something to do with the fact that people were desperate to read about something that wasn't about the election. Perhaps a dispute over a sign seems to be a lot more fun than all those bickering pols.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 1, 2010

Hairston defends his position in letter to the editor

Superintendent Joe Hairston has a letter to the editor  published earlier this afternoon in which he defends his decision not to speak to the Attorney General's Office about AIM. The response follows a story from last week and an editorial published today.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:56 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 28, 2010

Joe Hairston refuses to be interviewed by Attorney General

Baltimore County school chief Joe Hairston decided not to cooperate with an ethics inquiry conducted by the Attorney General at the request of county legislators.

The story in Friday's paper details the reaction of legislators and suggests there may be a push for an elected school board again next year.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:44 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 14, 2010

UPDATE: Voting will not be extended on Baltimore contract

UPDATE: The Baltimore Teachers Union said about 2:30 today that it will not extend voting past the 3 p.m. cutoff time. 

Because of unusually high turnout, Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English said that the the union may extend voting on the contract past 3 p.m. today at Polytechnic Institute, Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road.

The results are expected to be released tonight.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

August 16, 2010

Baltimore County families must verify residency

Once again, Baltimore County is requiring parents of all rising sixth- and ninth-graders to provide proof of residency. Yes, the county is making every family do this even if the family has lived in the same house for the past 15 years and their children have spent the past nine years in the county schools.

Seems like a lot of paperwork, but the county has said many families are trying to sneak into schools in areas they don't live in.

Here's what proof the county wants: a photo identification, a lease or deed and three pieces of mail sent to the home address within the last 60 days. The documents need to be provided by August 27 or the student will be withdrawn from the school system.

I am wondering if parents or administrators are finding this a burden or a necessity? 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:24 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 14, 2010

Baltimore County school board initially deadlocks on vote

Baltimore County's school board members rarely disagree in public. In fact, in the six or eight months since I started covering the board I can't remember a long public debate over any issue. Last night, however, the members deadlocked on who should become the vice president. Two members, Meg O'Hare and Ed Parker, were both nominated. O'Hare received four votes and Parker five votes, but no one had the seven votes needed to win the seat. 

Continue reading "Baltimore County school board initially deadlocks on vote" »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:11 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 16, 2010

Barbara Dezmon says that she will explain the truth

Barbara Dezmon, the creator of an unpopular grading system that caused an uproar in the Baltimore County system before it was abandoned in January, came before the county school board last night after retiring on June 1 as a longtime administrator. Dezmon told the board that there had been "untruths, deceptions and lies" concerning the county school system. She said she would set the record straight.

She implied that there had been bullying among adults and said she believed it needed to stop. She said horrible accusations, against her and others, had been posted on blogs. (I am assuming she meant this blog). "I am going to tell all," she said, including the details of secret discussions and what happened with the $300,000 Little Brown Book. She said that parents in the county deserved to know the truth.

She was only allowed three minutes to make her comments. She did not indicate when she might "tell all."


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:24 PM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 19, 2010

Dezmon to retire on June 1

Barbara Dezmon, the Baltimore County teacher who rose to become an assistant to the superintendent for Equity and Assurance, is retiring effective June 1.

The announcement was made in one small line on a list of promotions and transfers during the school board meeting last night. Dezmon developed the controversial grading system known as AIM that the county tried to implement last December, but was dropped after public protest.

Dezmon stands to gain financially from the program if it is used in other states.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:08 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 13, 2010

Hairston celebrates 10 years as superintendent

Joe Hairston celebrated his 10 years as superintendent in Baltimore County yesterday with the debut of a movie about the successes of his administration. The movie came after a morning of speeches and proclamations from politicians in the county. For a look at the movie, titled "Decade of Distinction," go to the website and click on one of the four pieces.  Hairston is now one of the longest-serving superintendents in Maryland.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:04 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 21, 2010

Air conditioning for Baltimore County schools

Ten Baltimore County schools are going to get air-conditioning next school year, unless the County Council decides to eliminate the item from the budget. After many years of battling by parents, County Executive Jim Smith has agreed to put the funding in the county budget.

Last night at the county board meeting, parent Laurie Taylor-Mitchell thanked the board for including the item in the budget, but she also suggested the county has only begun to scratch the surface in trying to get all of its schools air conditioned. She said there are about 70 schools that still need to be air conditioned in the county and it would take about a decade to get through the list, even if the district did seven every year. "What are the priorities here?" she said, calling for the county to do an analysis of what schools need it the most.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:34 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 24, 2010

A look at Hairston's 10 years in Baltimore County

From Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker:

It's not terribly common for a superintendent to last 10 years in today's education environment, and it's even less common at a large, complex system such as Baltimore County. But Joe Hairston has done exactly that, and today's print edition looks at his life and the reasons why he's remained in the job as long as he has. For one, he maintains an unusually placid demeanor, even during contentious episodes such as the recent standoff with teachers over the AIM curriculum program. For another, he expertly manages his relationship with the school board, perhaps too expertly according to those who say the board affords him a rubber stamp. 

In one particularly interesting moment, Hairston argued that his job is more difficult than the one faced by Andres Alonso in Baltimore City. He had to be a reformer as well, he explained, but had to do so without ruffling too many feathers in a county where many folks liked the status quo just fine. What do you guys think? Whose job would you rather have?

Regardless what you make of Hairston, he has led a fascinating life. He starred on the great all-black football team at Maryland State (now UMES). He entered his field at a time when the vestiges of segregation remained but went on to become the first black superintendent at two major school systems. He preached data-driven accountability before it was the in thing. Because of his low-key nature, he hasn't received as much attention as some of his peers, but his story is worth thinking about if you're interested in the state of our schools.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 11:20 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 16, 2010

After school closings, shopping for options

Baltimore Sun staff writer Arthur Hirsch contributes a report:

With the meter running on decisions about choosing another Catholic school, more than 100 Cardinals Gibbons School parents and students streamed through a suite of rooms upstairs in the Fine Arts Building Monday evening  to check out their options.

Representatives of 10 high schools from as far away as Annapolis and as close as a couple miles away had set up tables at the southwest Baltimore campus to dispense information and answer questions. With Gibbons scheduled to close in June as part of the Archdiocese of Baltimore's plan to reshape its school system, there were lots of questions, many concerning money in one way or another. Would their child's Gibbons scholarship continue? Would the archdiocese cover the difference between the Gibbons tuition and the new school?

"You'd think they have funds to offset this difference in the tuition," said Shawn Blum, of Halethorpe. His son, Riley, was on a full scholarship in his junior year at Gibbons and is now thinking about transferring to Mt. St. Joseph, the next nearest Catholic school, but at more than $11,000 in tuition, $1,000 more that at Gibbons. That could work, Blum said, but it might depend on the scholarship. In  in the end it could mean Riley completes a senior year at Landsdowne High School, a nearby public school.

"A lot of students are really upset," Blum said. "Their parents had paid to go to Catholic school, then they have to finish it up at a public school."

More than 2,100 students in 13 schools are being displaced, and the archdiocese has promised each one a seat in a Catholic school, either among the 52 remaining archdiocesan schools or independent institutions. Applications are due on March 29, with admissions offices scheduled to mail out their decision letters on April 13.

"The Catholic schools stood up tonight and said 'We're here for you,'  " said Mark D. Pacione, the archdiocesan associate director for Catholic schools planning.

Parents had come to gather information this time, not vent their anger as they had a week before as a standing-room crowd of some 1,000 packed the school auditorium to face archdiocesan officials. But it was clear that the wounds were still fresh, and there was still talk of ulterior motives in closing the boys' school, and of giving Gibbons another chance independent of the archdiocese.

Continue reading "After school closings, shopping for options" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (4)

March 10, 2010

Purchase of grammar desk reference in county

We report in today's paper the story of a failure of the Baltimore County school administration to get board approval before spending $300,000 on The Little, Brown Handbook. The book is a well known reference guide that can be used to look up grammar questions that was handed out to elementary and secondary school teachers.

There are two issues here. The first is that county policy states that expenditures of more than $25,000 must be approved by the board. The second is that books, which unlike other items that the school system buys, aren't bid and so textbooks have to go through an evaluation before they can be purchased. PTA and union leaders say there hasn't been enough vetting of the textbook purchases recently. The administration says that the Little, Brown Handbook didn't need to go through that process because it wasn't being purchased for students.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:57 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 3, 2010

Area superintendent in Baltimore County is reassigned

Bill Lawrence, a well-liked area superintendent in Baltimore County, was reassigned last week to a job in human resources. I write about the job change in today's paper. I wasn't able to determine what new job he has in human resources, but it looks as though it was a demotion.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:31 PM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 27, 2010

AIM committee reports at Baltimore County board meeting

After the school board meeting last night, I asked for and got from Superintendent Joe Hairston a copy of the minutes and recommendations of the committee that he put together to study AIM.

The committee was made up of administrators, principals, AIM trainers and a PTSA representative. Towson University Dean of the School of Education Raymond Lorion said the committee met twice for about an hour and a half each time.

While Lorion said last night that AIM has great potential, the committee recommendations he read are more nuanced.

Continue reading "AIM committee reports at Baltimore County board meeting " »

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:00 PM | | Comments (52)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 20, 2010

Contractors say bids thrown out unfairly in Baltimore County

My colleague, Mary Gail Hare, writes today about minority contractors who say their bids were dismissed for minor oversights in paperwork. There is an update to her story. Late Tuesday, the day before James W. Ancel was to address the state Board of Public Works, the county purchasing office notified him that they were granting his appeal and reinstating him as the lowest responsible bidder on the Milford Mill Academy renovation. His bid had been disqualified for a minor miscue - a plus sign to show he had exceeded the required percentage - on the minority participation information he had provided. He appealed the decision and vowed to go to court, if the county schools did not resolve the matter. He and his attorney are in Annapolis today. They said they will criticize "a perfection policy" that is costing taxpayers millions more for school construction projects and asking for state review of rejections of low bidders.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:23 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

Questions raised about ethics of AIM

In today's paper, I write about Baltimore County teachers, parents and administrators who raise concerns over whether Barbara Dezmon should be involved in making decisions about the implementation of AIM, a program that she developed, owns and hopes to sell. In addition, a University of Maryland professor questions whether the county should have given Dezmon the copyright to the program or whether it should be the property of the county schools.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:30 AM | | Comments (35)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 6, 2010

Hairston backs away from immediate use of AIM

My story in today's paper details what Joe Hairston said yesterday in an hour-long interview in his office. The story raises many questions including what AIM will finally look like in its streamlined version and when it will be used widely by county teachers.

One of the things Hairston said was that the county was going to find a way to marry the assessTrax system with AIM. He suggested that a computer program would be available in the spring to integrate the two. "Teachers aren't asked to do anything that teachers don't already do," he said.

Hairston's reversal on AIM was clear, but what will come next wasn't.

"What superintendent in America gets into this much detail?" he said in discussing how he has now set up a committee to look into streamlining the system.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:25 AM | | Comments (98)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 28, 2009

Baltimore County teachers and AIM

Baltimore County teachers continue to contact The Baltimore Sun, upset about a requirement by the school district that they use a new detailed progress reporting system called AIM (or Articulated Instruction Module).

Under AIM, teachers must judge whether each of their students has mastered more than 100 specific skills. In an Advanced Placement World History class, a teacher must indicate whether each student can “evaluate the consequences of global pandemics” or “analyze the role of Islam as a unifying cultural and economic force in Eurasia,” two examples among pages of items. One AP course contains an 11-page list of knowledge or skills that must be checked off. To see other examples, go to the Baltimore County schools Web site.

Among the concerns being raised by teachers in posts to our blog is that they will need to set aside hours to complete AIM, which could take away from planning and instruction time.

Schools spokesman Charles Herndon told reporter Liz Bowie that he believes that the teachers who have complained are in the minority. “We feel our teachers are up to the task. We think very highly of the teachers; we think they are capable,” he said. 

Here's Liz's full article about AIM, which ran Sunday.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 12:37 PM | | Comments (202)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 21, 2009

Baltimore County teachers concerned about new program

We've gotten a number of e-mails from Baltimore County teachers in the past several days who are very upset about a communication they received Friday telling them they must implement a new program called AIM, or Articulated Instruction Module, which includes a detailed progress-reporting system. I haven't written stories about this program, so I can't give readers of the blog much information yet. Teachers say that it will place another heavy burden on them and won't improve teaching and learning.

Here's what one teacher had to say:  "This AIM checklist for each of my first graders could be as many as 26 pages long and would require me to judge 101 marks per child, each term and I have 24 students."

I would like to hear from teachers about the pros and cons of AIM. And I was wondering if the AIM program is geared toward today's Maryland state standards, will it have to be redone in a year so that it is consistent with measuring students' knowledge based on the national standards, which Maryland plans to adopt next August?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:28 AM | | Comments (267)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 21, 2009

Bob Hallett, Baltimore County librarian extraordinaire, dies

In an obituary in today's paper, we mark the passing of one of those teachers who made a difference in the lives of thousands of students over a career that spanned 30 years.

Most of us are lucky if we come in contact with a handful of these gifted teachers in our lifetime. We all know who they are: the teachers whose voices and quirks we can still remember 5 or 40 years after we left their classrooms, who taught lessons that challenged us to think differently about the way the world works. I don't know about you, but I can even remember certain moments in their classrooms.

Perhaps Bob Hallett's final gift was that he will have allowed everyone in the Riderwood Elementary School community to remember to celebrate the achievements of all great teachers while they are with us.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:08 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 19, 2009

"Wiki fever" in Baltimore County and beyond

My story in today's paper takes a look at the increasing use of the Web 2.0 tool known as a wiki (not to be confused with Wikipedia, which is certainly in the same family).  These online spaces, which allow people to modify, contribute to and comment on content, are starting to take off in schools throughout Baltimore County, as well as the Carroll and Anne Arundel school systems.

You can check out Carroll's pilot wiki, done by social studies students at Northwest Middle last school year, to get an idea of what one looks like.

Teachers at Catonsville Middle, where I had the chance to observe a wiki lesson, say they have already noticed more engagement and interest among students - and several of the kids I spoke with were very much in favor of ditching traditional, hand-written class assignments for good. (I wonder how teachers and parents feel about that.)

One thing I found particularly interesting in all of this is how schools are working to teach students about Web etiquette, training them to flex their digital muscles with care.  Could these kids help usher in a new era of online civility?  Or is it too much to hope such lessons in polite discourse will stay with them?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:27 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

October 16, 2009

Gifted-and-talented conference for Maryland teachers

Today I sat in on an annual conference for gifted-and-talented educators at Randallstown High School, which drew teachers from throughout the state.  There were a variety of sessions on ways to inspire creativity and critical thinking among students in math, science, reading and other areas - led by teachers from various area school systems. 

The keynote speaker was Dr. Bertie Kingore, a longtime gifted-and-talented educator who also held a session on books and teaching tools.

I thought I'd share some very interesting tips/tidbits from her session and another I attended - some of which could certainly apply to all types of students (or so this non-educator thinks).

A sample of Dr. Kingore's recommended children's books that promote higher-level thinking:

  • First the Egg, Courage and If the World Were a Village for abstract and critical thinking
  • My Dog is as Smelly as Dirty Socks, If... and The Dot for art, visual and spatial concepts
  • Marianthe's Story: Painted Words and Spoken Memories and Winston the Book Wolf for inference
  • If You Hopped Like a Frog, A Place for Zero and Sir Cumference Series for math concepts and terminology
  • The Boy Who Loved Words, Once Upon 1001 Stories, Around the House the Fox Chased the Mouse and Mom and Dad Are Palindromes for oral and written language
  • I Wanna Iguana and Joyful Noise for the concept of point of view
  • Dear Deer (an exercise in homophones) and Pig in the Spigot for skills and written conventions

Kingore emphasized the importance of teachers documenting what they are doing - showing how they are covering the requirements (testing standards) even as they implement more creative strategies.

She also repeatedly reminded teachers to take Saturdays off.

After the reading workshop, I headed over to one whose title grabbed my attention - and evidently, that of the many teachers who crowded into the classroom: "The Singing Math Teacher."

Continue reading "Gifted-and-talented conference for Maryland teachers" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:26 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

October 15, 2009

Baltimore County officials gather to celebrate education

The virtual classroom at Chesapeake High School was packed earlier today with a slew of county and state officials, including two past superintendents.

County Executive James T. Smith has spent this year celebrating the county's 350th anniversary, and this month has been designated for recognizing education.  Gathered at Chesapeake this morning were the major players from all segments of the academic pipeline:

Towson University's President Robert Caret
UMBC's President Freeman Hrabowski
CCBC's President Sandra Kurtinitis
President Kevin Manning of Stevenson University
President Sanford Ungar of Goucher College
Former BCPS superintendents Robert Y. Dubel and Anthony G. Marchione
Current Superintendent Dr. Hairston

Stuart Berger, who led the school system in the early 1990s, also was supposed to attend, but he was delayed at the airport.

Although the new hi-tech classroom has been filled with visitors a lot recently, today's group was a unique combination of past and present, particularly in a setting that district officials have touted as the future of education. 

Smith gave everyone citations for their service to the county - and the educators spoke of the importance and value of working together, even when it means working with the competition (as in the case of higher education)...while also taking time to highlight what their institutions have to offer, of course.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 13, 2009

Patapsco High School students to restore photos damaged in Dundalk flood

Students in Katie Calkins' photography II and III classes at Patapsco High and Center for the Arts are in the business of repairing pictures this month - a service they are offering to victims of last month's flood in Dundalk.

They've gotten one batch of photos from a local second-grade teacher so far, and are hoping more folks will take advantage of their skills.

Anyone interested can find more details on the school Web site, contact Calkins directly or simply mail the damaged pictures to her at Patapsco: 8100 Wise Avenue, Baltimore 21222.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 28, 2009

Riderwood Elementary's media specialist in action

The Red Reader, aka Bob HallettI recently wrote a story about Bob Hallett, a dynamic, quirky library-media specialist at Baltimore County's Riderwood Elementary who was recently diagnosed with a rare leukemia.  A few years ago, Hallett helped invent - and then play - a superhero called the Red Reader, who was part of a motivational reading show on the school system's Education Channel.

The folks at the Education Channel were kind enough to point us to one of Hallett's performances, this one on a show called Math Homework Helpers, in which he regularly gives voice to a puppet named Professor Q.

Just thought I'd share.

Professor Q on Math Homework Helpers



Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:30 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

September 22, 2009

2009 High School Assessments

Liz Bowie had a story in today's paper about the 2009 High School Assessment results, which indicate that making the tests a graduation requirement hasn't presented as big of an obstacle to students as originally feared, according to data provided by state education officials.

This news has some folks wondering whether the bar is being set too low, particularly as state officials say only 11 students did not graduate solely because of the assessment requirement.

Liz will have another story in tomorrow's paper, taking a look at the future of the HSAs, and where we go from here. Stay tuned.  Also, you can check out the results on the state's Web site, which also has an updated state watch list for schools failing to make adequate yearly progress.

In the meantime...what do you think?  Do the HSAs set the bar too low?  What do you think about the small number affected by this requirement (the city, for example, reported no students kept from graduating only because of the HSAs - but did represent about 20 percent of the waivers given to seniors statewide)?

September 16, 2009

Ridgely Middle rally update

The warm, sunny weather may have been welcome yesterday, but - as Baltimore County parents repeatedly noted - temperatures in the high 80s and above aren't quite so enjoyable inside a school building.

Dozens of parents gathered in the courtyard between the Circuit Court and county office buildings in Towson, once again calling on the county executive and schools superindent to do something to remedy the sometimes sweltering conditions at Ridgely Middle School.

As I've noted here before, a number of the county's schools don't have air conditioning.  And, according to school officials, at least six others - Dumbarton and Old Court Middle, Loch Raven and Southwest academies and Hampton and Johnnycake elementaries - have similar window systems to Ridgely's. 

But a couple mothers who surveyed the other schools said they found the situations in those other facilities were not as bad as at the Lutherville school, where half the new windows installed during a renovation a few years ago do not open - or only open a few inches.  That basically means the school is sealed up, hindering air flow, several folks said yesterday.

Continue reading "Ridgely Middle rally update" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:34 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 15, 2009

Baltimore County happenings

A couple noteworthy items for schools in Baltimore County today.

The governor, county executive and superintendent will preside over the groundbreaking for the new Carver Center for Arts and Technology building, which is to open March 2012.  The facility, which the school board has approved for LEED certification, is being built where the magnet's playing fields are now located.

This afternoon, parents from Ridgely Middle School plan to protest at the Towson courthouse, as they continue to push for air conditioning at the Lutherville school.  Several elected officials are expected to join them, including members of the local delegation. I'll be going, and will post an update later today.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents

September 14, 2009

Baltimore County to use progress-reporting system countywide

My story today highlights an online program in Baltimore County that outlines what students should be learning in every course - and includes a detailed progress-reporting system that tracks their progress in mastering those objectives. Even as students move from teacher to teacher and school to school, a running record is kept, showing the skills they have mastered and those they have yet to grasp.

The program, called the Articulated Instruction Module, also provides access to the district's entire curriculum, including sample lessons and questions that teachers can reference while crafting quizzes and tests. 

Even though the bulk of the county's teachers are in the process of learning how to use it, the module has been in place for several years at a few schools, particularly in the southwest area. This month, a couple thousand teachers are to be trained, and the school system expects the program to go countywide by the spring semester.  It is also supposed to be shared with all the other districts in the state for their own use.

The goal, according to county educator Barbara Dezmon, who created the program, is to ensure all children are receiving the same education, regardless of where they are going to school.  And having such a system also helps create some kind of record for homeless students, who sometimes are only at a school for a few days.

Several teachers I spoke with were looking forward to the benefits of the module: having a sense, from the beginning, of where their students need help - and the ability to access instructional resources.  But the teachers union has expressed some concerns about adding to workload.

What do you think?  Does the benefit of having much more detailed information about each student - for teachers and parents - outweigh whatever additional work might be involved?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:00 AM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents, Teaching

September 8, 2009

At Woodlawn High, students watch as president speaks

Several of the Sun education reporters went to schools in different districts to sit in on classes as they watched President Obama's speech to them at noon today. I was at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, where several classes were able to watch the speech live - and where, according to Principal Brian Scriven, there were plans to record the address for those who had lunch at the time it aired.  Viewing the speech was voluntary - as it was throughout the county and in other school systems, too. 

I was struck by some of the insights the students had in a discussion prior to the address - and how seriously many of them took the exercise, and the speech (I do remember high school, after all).

Stay tuned...I'll have more to share as we continue working on this story.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:03 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation, Around the Region, Baltimore County

August 18, 2009

Training new Baltimore County teachers

I dropped in on the three-day new-teacher orientation that started today at Randallstown High School, where about 650 newbies were being schooled on what it takes to be a teacher, of any stripe, in Baltimore County.

The hundreds filling the school’s auditorium were welcomed by a host of people: state schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick, county schools Superintendent Joe Hairston, County Executive Jim Smith, school board President JoAnn Murphy, TABCO President Cheryl Bost and PTA President Nancy Ostrow.

This isn’t my first teacher orientation, but I still get a small kick out of seeing teachers go through the same exercises they will make their students do in just a couple weeks: introducing themselves, sharing what their interests are, and their burning questions for the coming year.  These nervous but excited individuals going from room to room are like a preview of their future classes, toting brand new bags packed with materials and loads of information.

Before and during the practical sessions that gave teachers a blow-by-blow of the units they would be covering, along with some details on assessments, several folks – including Bost – emphasized the importance of building relationships with fellow instructors, with parents, with students.

Dr. Grasmick noted that nearly 100 of the newcomers are career-changers — which, she said, shows some “recognition of the rewards of teaching.”

She also said seeing the new faces serves as a reminder of her own start as a teacher, and the excitement she felt about the opening of school — a feeling that hasn’t diminished.

“There’s not a lot in life that has the beginning and end [like] a school year,” she said.  “It’s pretty thrilling.”

This Friday, Hairston is supposed to officially welcome back district supervisors, at Chesapeake High.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

August 5, 2009

Transfer option meetings in Baltimore County elementaries

Last night, I attended a parent meeting at Halstead Academy, a Baltimore County elementary school in the Parkville area.  Because Halstead did not make adequately yearly progress this year, and is a Title I school, parents must be given the option of transferring their children to either Carroll Manor or Jacksonville elementaries.  A similar meeting was to be held at Riverview Elementary about the same time last night.  The two are the only elementaries in the county on the state school-improvement list.

Crowded into a classroom, parents met Halstead’s new principal, Karen Blannard, taking over for Jill Carter, who was transferred to Halethorpe Elementary.  It was interesting how much some of the tension dropped once Blannard did a presentation explaining the position the school was now in: Halstead failed to make AYP for its special-education students, but met requirements in all other areas.  Blannard noted that attendance, which counts toward AYP, fell short by one-tenth of a point.  She and the many teachers present emphasized that they need parents’ help in improving the situation in the coming year.

A few other tidbits:

Continue reading "Transfer option meetings in Baltimore County elementaries" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Parents

July 23, 2009

Woodlawn, Arbutus middle schools make it off state school-improvement list

In my story today, I take a closer look at two Baltimore County middle schools that managed to get off the state watch list, after making adequate yearly progress two years in a row.

Woodlawn Middle School was the first in the county to land on the school-improvement list during the 2001-2002 school year – and was also the first to put a restructuring plan in place, not waiting to be ordered to do so.  We’ve documented the school’s troubles – which, beyond poor test scores, also included at one time issues with attendance and violence – for nearly a decade.

Woodlawn Principal Damien Ingram and Kendra Johnson, principal of Arbutus Middle, both spoke of the importance of community involvement in achieving their goals.  Ingram said they had volunteers from a local church coming to help with students.  He also made it clear to parents, from day one, what he expected of the kids, he said, which translated into larger numbers of kids showing up for after-school and Saturday programs - and fewer parental complaints.

Ingram also pointed to the modified MSAs as being a big help for some of his special education students, among whom he saw a “drastic increase” in performance this time around. 

What do you think it will take to sustain these advances?  Ingram and Johnson said they basically are preparing to start the process again, with new batches of students – and thus different challenges – coming their way. 

For educators who administered the mod-MSAs this year, what was your experience?  I’m curious as to whether others found this alternative version made a significant difference for their students. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 13, 2009

How often should students prove they live in a district?

Once again this summer, Baltimore County schools are making the parents of sixth and ninth graders prove that they live within the school's boundaries. Even students who have been in the school system for six or nine years must provide proof of residency by August 14 for their child to be able to attend school on opening day.

Parents will have to provide photo identification, a lease or deed, and three piece of mail sent to their home address within the last 60 days. The school system says its "verification" process is intended to make sure students who don't live in the county can't go to county schools. Do county parents think this is an unnecessary burden or are they glad the county won't be using any tax dollars on "city kids." Do principals feel this is over kill and a waste of staff time or are they happy to have the rules that allow them to get rid of  that student they always suspected  didn't actually live in the district anyway?

Do any other school systems require this kind of documentation for students already in the school system?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:34 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 23, 2009

Tackling school dropouts

In my story today, I take a look at dropouts – and, more specifically, dropout prevention and intervention – the focus of a day-long summit at Randallstown High School yesterday.  Hundreds of state educators, believed to represent all 24 school systems, attended the event, said to be a first for Maryland.  It was sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance, an organization tied to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife and current chair, Alma.

One of the noteworthy moments during the summit involved a theatrical performance put on by a troupe from Garrett County, who portrayed seven characters – six students and a parent – explaining why they chose to drop out.  The writer of the play, called The Goodbye Kids, explained to the audience that the concept emerged from more than 20 interviews she did with dropouts.  The characters were composites of what she gleaned from those talks, she said.

The characters, all students at “Run of the Mill High School,” ranged from a boy who bellowed about how much his teachers bored him to a girl whose family never set a high priority on finishing school to a poor student who was sick of being mocked for his appearance – and stench.  Other highlights included a student who’d always gotten by – until that one teacher noticed his inability to read – and the mother of another who had been regularly mocked for being gay.

Interestingly, the profiles foreshadowed a later presentation from Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University


Continue reading "Tackling school dropouts" »

June 19, 2009

Coming next week: Baltimore-area teachers to share their Space Academy experiences

During the week of June 22, InsideEd will feature reports for some very special correspondents.  Thirty-three elementary and middle school math and science teachers from the Baltimore area will be in Huntsville, Al. to participate in the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program.

These teachers applied for and were awarded scholarships for this week-long program, during which they'll take part in astronaut-style training and simulations, and work together on educational activities.  They will carry back what they learn from these experiences to their classrooms to help students gain a better appreciation for math and science.

Throughout their week at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, 8 of these educators will serve as "teacher/reporters" for InsideEd, sending us daily updates about what they're doing and what they're learning. 

Some of the teacher/reporters are also shooting video and taking photographs during the week.  After they get back, we'll collect these visuals and edit them into a presentation about the Space Academy that will be published on before the next school year begins.  That presentation will also include more information about the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program that these teachers and others can use in the classroom. 

Our teacher/reporters for the week will be:

Sabourah Abdunafi of ConneXions Community Leadership Academy

Susan Allen of Urbana Middle School

Sarah Clark of Franklin Middle School

Mary Horner of Notre Dame Preparatory School

Luis Lima of Baltimore City College

Rachel Murphy of Hereford Middle School

Adren Thompson of Rising Stars Academy

Amy Wood of the Maryland Science Center

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:15 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Teaching

June 3, 2009

Judge denies request to stop West Towson Elementary lawsuit

Baltimore County Circuit Judge Michael J. Finifter said the Towson residents failed to prove they would suffer irreparable harm while waiting to have their case against the Board of Education heard.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:41 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 2, 2009

Teacher retention, and satisfaction, in Baltimore County

My story today takes a look at the debate about teacher retention in Baltimore County – and whether it is, in fact, a problem.

The subject caught my attention during the last county board meeting, when school officials presented a preliminary analysis of the TELL Maryland survey, the anonymous state questionnaire that teachers and other certified, school-based employees were invited to take earlier this year.

Both Tom Rhoades, the district’s executive director for research, accountability and assessment, and the superintendent emphasized that the survey’s results clearly show that teachers are staying in the county – and are happy to be working there, contrary to claims that they are fleeing to other districts for higher pay and better support.  It was clear those comments were aimed at Cheryl Bost, the president of TABCO, who has often said compensation is a factor in losing teachers.

For those interested in a bit of reading, here are the state reports on the teacher shortage and staffing, which Bost cites as evidence of a retention problem.

The discussion will probably continue next week, as a presentation on staffing trends is expected at the school board’s meeting.  And I suspect Bost may have a thing or two to say when she gets a chance to speak during that session.

But back to the TELL survey…for those who did take it, what did you think?  Will the governor’s goal of hearing directly from you result in actual changes in your schools?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:42 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

May 30, 2009

NEA to spotlight Kenwood High School's character education program

I got an email from Kenwood High School's Nancy Hanlin, one of two teachers who have introduced the school to the Virtues Project, a new character education initiative that I wrote about a few months ago.  Apparently the National Education Association recently interviewed some of the students and staff involved in Kenwood's Virtues group, discussing the concept and its impact on Kenwood - and on them.

While the video won't be out until this fall, you can catch a preview of what they have to say.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 22, 2009

A night of fashion at Windsor Mill Middle School

The cafeteria at Baltimore County's Windsor Mill Middle School was transformed into a miniature Bryant Park last night - complete with runway - for a student fashion show I attended there.

The Beautiful Divine Ladies, girls from all three grade levels who are members of a leadership program, were showing off their fashion-diva side last night, but a couple videos presented in between scenes also showed off what they had done during the school year.  The girls read Hill Harper's Letters to a Young Sister, and then wrote their own letters of advice to their little sisters (a crowd favorite: "Boys are not everything.  Focus on school. Not on them.").  They also had a segment of poetry, describing who they are - and want to be.

There's an extended Web version of the story in today's paper...I only wish I could better capture the audience's enthusiasm for these young ladies.  The cheers and shouts were constant.  McKey Sullivan, the previous winner of America's Next Top Model, was the mistress of ceremonies.  But the girls were most definitely the stars.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 7:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 21, 2009

And on it goes: decision delayed in the West Towson Elementary case

The Baltimore County Circuit Court judge presiding over this morning's hearing to stop the construction of West Towson Elementary decided to issue a written ruling on the matter.  It's unclear when that will come out.

But I wanted to at least supply you with some of the arguments made in court.  The courtroom was pretty full on both sides today - and some kids were even in attendance.  The Board of Education's attorneys tried to get the preliminary injunction request thrown out right off the bat, but Judge Michael Finifter also reserved judgment on that score.

As soon as I hear more specifics about when Finifter might release his ruling, I'll let you know.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:31 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

More joining the ranks for cool air in Baltimore County schools

The quest for air conditioning continued during last night's public hearing on Baltimore County's capital budget for the 2011 fiscal year, with about a dozen people - including one shy but brave student - from Westowne Elementary and Ridgely Middle schools chiming in.

Parent after parent stepped up to the microphone to describe children feeling faint in their classrooms, or dealing with nausea, headaches and flushed faces dripping with sweat.  Several referred to Westowne's music room - apparently a very small space - as "the sauna," while others described the difficulty of working and moving around the building with special education students in "sweltering" conditions.

Last night's theme followed a rather heated exchange about the situation at Ridgely Middle, where parents have long been asking the district to do something about the high temperatures they've recorded in classrooms on hot days.

The middle school parents, who have organized a group called Friends of Ridgely, were sporting tags at yesterday's hearing that read: "103 degrees is NOT a Learning Environment."

Laura Mullen, whose daughter attends Ridgely, warned school officials that they weren't going away. 

I'm told to expect a rally drawing attention to this issue in the weeks ahead.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

May 20, 2009

West Towson hearing tomorrow

For those who are following the ongoing West Towson Elementary lawsuit - and I know you are out there - the hearing on a preliminary injunction to stop Baltimore County schools' construction plans is Thursday morning.

I received a letter this week from the president of the Ruxton Ridge Community Association - sent to various elected officials and the state superintendent - about the cancellation of a meeting that residents from that community were to have with the school board.  With their permission, I share it with you.

Continue reading "West Towson hearing tomorrow" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:42 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 18, 2009

Bullying policies in Baltimore County and elsewhere

My story today takes a look at a bullying policy coming before the Baltimore County school board Tuesday.

But really, this could have been about any school board in Maryland, considering the state law that requires every district to develop and adopt such a policy.  School officials in the city, Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties are in the midst of this process, which must be completed by July 1 (and submitted to the state superintendent).

In talking to some of my sources, I was struck by the fact that most everyone already has a policy like this - even if it's not in the exact words or format recommended by the state.  In fact, the state Department of Education worked with local districts in creating its model policy. 

A uniform stance on an issue can certainly be a good thing - particularly when it comes to the persistent, even timeless, problem of bullying.  But I did wonder what people on the ground think about this.  Will it make a difference in how educators handle harassment or intimidation among their students?

May 17, 2009

HSAs: How close to the finish line?

Liz had a heck of a time getting the state to release data last week on how many seniors still have not met the HSA requirements, with graduation just a few weeks away. As she reported Friday, the number who have not passed is shrinking every day as projects keep rolling in. Fewer than 1,150 students were coming up short in Baltimore City plus Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Harford and Montgomery counties combined, down from 2,040 in late March. Baltimore County and Prince George's County (which had more students at risk for not graduating than any other district) did not release updated figures. But Baltimore County officials said they expect the number who won't graduate to be less than 4 percent of the senior class, or about 300 students.

In the city, officials estimate that more than 90 percent of seniors will have met the HSA requirements by graduation. Diplomas would be denied to about 400 seniors.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:38 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Testing

May 11, 2009

Electrical problem, but no fire, at Sparrows Point High School

A kind reader alerted me to an incident at Sparrows Point High School today, and I wanted to provide some additional information, for those who might be wondering what happened out there.

The Baltimore County Fire Department tells me the school was evacuated this afternoon, as a precautionary measure, because of an electrical problem with an air-conditioning unit on the roof.  There was no actual fire. 

Activities were canceled for this evening, as BGE workers are there fixing their equipment.

A BGE spokeswoman said the workers should be finished by 5 p.m.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

May 8, 2009

Baltimore County stakeholders: Would you like to take a survey?

Baltimore County schools sent out this invitation to community stakeholders -- parents, students and other residents -- to do a Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey.

So if you've got time in the coming weeks, let your digital voice be heard.  You have until June 7.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 6, 2009

Air conditioning in Baltimore County schools: It’s getting hot again

As the temperatures are getting ready to climb, the parents advocating for air conditioning in Baltimore County schools are rallying to their cause again.
Last night’s board meeting featured a couple plugs – and even a demo – for getting cool air in the dozens of county schools without A.C. Slightly more than half of the county's 171 school, center and program buildings lack air conditioning.

Clifford Collins, the northwest-area advisory chair, made a plea for air conditioning at Old Court and Sudbrook middle schools, reflecting public comments at a recent meeting in that region.
During a brief presentation to the board, central area advisory chair Laura Mullen held up a piece of cardboard to demonstrate how little the windows open in classrooms at Ridgely Middle School, which her daughter attends. The windows used to open all the way, she said, and now open only 30 degrees. And with the shades pulled down, she added, “there is simply no air flow.” 
Last school year, Ridgely parents collected photographs of temperature gauges showing inside temperatures to be about 10 degrees higher than outside. The school’s climate-control committee is determined to get air conditioning there, Mullen said last night, asking school board members for their support.
The Ridgely parents also brought their concerns to the County Council during its public hearing on the budget last week. Time and funding are, of course, key in making this happen throughout the district. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:30 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 5, 2009

Milford Mill Academy and others reopening tomorrow

Based on new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Milford Mill Academy and the other Maryland schools closed because of confirmed and/or probable swine-flu cases will be reopening Wednesday, instead of Thursday as originally announced.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

More contracts for West Towson Elementary...and note on Teacher of the Year

Baltimore County is moving forward with its plans for West Towson, as evidenced by the bevy of contracts for the new elementary school on the agenda for tonight's school board meeting.

Woodworking, roofing, flooring, waste management, steel -- you name it, it's on this long list.

The contracts caught my attention largely because of the ongoing lawsuit against the school system because of its decision to build this school next to Ridge Ruxton on Charles Street. You might recall that the school district is supposed to respond to a request for a preliminary injunction -- which would effectively halt construction plans -- by the end of Wednesday.

And on a completely unrelated note, piggybacking off of Sara's post today: Baltimore County announced its teacher of the year yesterday - Cecily Anderson, an eighth-grade English teacher at Catonsville Middle School. Anderson is known for presenting all of her students with equally challenging texts (such as unadulterated Shakespeare), in the belief that every child deserves to have a rigorous education.

In her remarks, Anderson made some people tear up as she talked about the impact the birth of her son, who has a rare genetic disease, had on her life and views as a teacher. She described how loving a child with special needs "cleansed my perspective as an educator."

"It forces me to hold myself accountable to the same degree and standards of excellence that I demand of each of you," she said, referring to her fellow educators.

Nicholas, who is now 8, goes to Westchester Elementary -- and was on hand yesterday to celebrate his mother's award.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 30, 2009

West Towson Elementary update

As many in Towson already know, a hearing took place Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court about a group of residents' request to stop the Board of Education from continuing with its plans to build West Towson Elementary.

I wanted to share a letter to the editor from local resident Kris Culp about the overcrowding and the suit against the board, posted here with her permission.

Continue reading "West Towson Elementary update" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:45 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 29, 2009

Cases of swine flu in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties

A letter from Milford Mill Academy Principal Nathaniel Gibson has been posted on the southwest Baltimore County school’s Web site, with some details about the one student who appears to have swine flu.

The Anne Arundel student attends Folger McKinsey Elementary School in Severna Park.

Check out the story so far.

April 24, 2009

Plans to build West Towson Elementary challenged

My story today looks at a lawsuit filed yesterday by several Towson residents against the Baltimore County Board of Education, calling for a halt to plans to build West Towson Elementary - the new facility meant to relieve crowding in other schools in the area.

The grass-roots group Towson Families United, which long pushed for a solution to the crowding problem, has already posted a detailed response to some of the concerns voiced by the plaintiffs in the case. 

The plaintiffs live on properties that border the proposed site, located on Charles Street next door to Ridge Ruxton School.  They contend that the Board of Education failed to follow proper procedures - and comply with several policies and state laws - in deciding to build the school last May. The suit comes just a couple days after board members approved the school's name, as well as a couple contracts dealing with site improvements and excavation.

We have closely followed this story for more than a year now, documenting the twists and turns in a lengthy struggle to alleviate the crowding in Towson elementaries - especially Rodgers Forge, the county's most overcapacity school.

I'll continue to follow this as it develops...and keep you posted.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 9:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 23, 2009

Private school PD as a model for city schools?

We're all about guest posts here this week. This one is from Beth Drummond Casey, executive director of the Middle Grades Partnership, about Park School's professional development event on Sunday -- and how the model used successfully there might transfer into public schools:

Conventional wisdom might stress the importance of not looking back once you leave one job for another. Nonetheless, I found myself thinking somewhat wistfully of my 14 years working at Park School as I sat in the audience at Park’s 20th anniversary celebration of its professional development program, FACA (Faculty And Curricular Advancement), this past Sunday evening.
Devoted readers of this blog tend to care about and be associated with public schools. (Like me, for instance: I now help run a program for 600 Baltimore City public middle school students.) But I hope some of you – especially those who believe that effective teacher professional development is the best way to promote student achievement – will set aside your biases about private schools and will read all the way to the end of this post.

I’m remembering Sara’s blog entry last week, the one where she mentioned attending a lecture at which Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a noted education researcher, bemoaned the lack of quality professional development for veteran teachers. Ball noted that it was up to research universities to fill that gap. I disagree. Speaker after speaker on Sunday night at Park confirmed it: We don’t have to wait for universities to decide what we need. We can provide stellar professional development all on our own.

Continue reading "Private school PD as a model for city schools?" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:32 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day

A number of Earth Day activities took place today, and my colleague Mary Gail Hare was at Pinewood Elementary in Timonium. So were County Executive Jim Smith, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and other local officials. Pinewood has been certified as a Green School

Here are some tidbits Mary Gail gleaned from students, who appeared unfazed by the showers:

Many students had painted a small blue earth on one cheek and “go green” on the other.

“You have to reduce, re-use and recycle to save the environment,” said Isabella Hsiao, fourth grader.

Classmate Annie Burns said Earth Day is important “because it teaches us all lessons.”

The children spent most of the day outdoors in a steady rain.

“We are celebrating what the earth has given us and learning how to protect it,” said fifth-grader Isabelle Andrews.

Matt Brandau, fourth-grader, pronounced any day that he can plant a tree “really cool.”

“We all have to share this earth,” said Scott Shuster, fourth grader.

Brendan Miller, a fourth-grader, said no one can be “disresponsible. Everyone has to pitch in.”

Fifth-grader Reed Matson helped put together a mural made from recycled bottle caps.

“The only reason people don’t recycle is because they think it’s too much trouble,” Reed said.


The Pinewood students are just another example of how enthusiastically kids embrace going green. I've noted other school-driven efforts to encourage recycling here before. 


The Maryland Association for Outdoor and Environmental Education sponsors the Green Schools program.  Baltimore County is home to about 20 percent of the public and private schools certified as green -- and is the jurisdication with the most such schools statewide, according to county officials. 


Besides Pinewood, the schools in Baltimore County that joined the green ranks this year include:


Krieger Schechter Day School

The Park School

Timonium Elementary

Windsor Mill Middle

Eastwood Elementary

Cromwell Valley Elementary

Stoneleigh Elementary

Westowne Elementary

Posted by Arin Gencer at 7:12 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 18, 2009

Professional development at Park School

If anyone doesn't have Sunday plans, there's an interesting event going on tomorrow at Park School to mark the 20-year anniversary of a unique professional development program. The Faculty and Curricular Advancement Program, or FACA, provides the funding for teachers to spend a month each summer working on projects to benefit the school. I hear there's some interest in trying to replicate the model for public schools. Various workshops will be going on throughout the afternoon; tickets are $10 at the door.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

April 16, 2009

Baltimore County teachers one step closer to pay raises

My story today looks at reactions to Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith’s budget – specifically as it relates to education. More than half of Smith’s $2.5 million proposal is allocated to the Board of Education.

Most seem quite pleased with the budget, including Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, but nothing will be final until the County Council votes on it next month. There's a public hearing at 7 p.m. April 28 in council chambers and a public work session on May 4.

Teachers union President Cheryl Bost also expressed her appreciation for the 3.5 percent increase.  But she also observed that, even if teachers get the pay raise, their lengthy push for better pay can’t end there. The county still remains behind others in terms of competitive salaries, she said, in part because there were no raises this fiscal year.

Bost emphasized that instructors are grateful for what they might get, considering the state of the economy. But she also said a long-term plan for teacher retention is needed.

Any thoughts on ways to keep good teachers on board?

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:20 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 31, 2009

Baltimore kindergartners' school readiness improves

Children's readiness for kindergarten is on an upward trajectory across Maryland and particularly in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, according to a new state report.

Each fall, the state tests incoming kindergartners' social and academic skills and judges whether they are "fully ready" to succeed in kindergarten. The city's performance has improved enough that it now approaches the statewide average. At the start of this school year, 65 percent of children tested in Baltimore met the "fully ready" standard, up from 57 percent last year. Statewide, 73 percent of children met the standard, compared with 68 percent a year prior.

The city and Baltimore County have shown the most growth since the assessment was first administered in 2001. That year, the city's pass rate was 28 percent. The county's was 32 percent, compared with 80 percent today.

City officials say the growth is linked with the expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

March 30, 2009

Baltimore County's plans for a virtual classroom: a peek (sort of)

My story last week on plans to create a virtual classroom at Baltimore County's Chesapeake High School described what the space would look like, based on some drawings provided to school board members. 

But now I can do one better: Thanks to a post on D'bo's Soapbox, you can get a visual on this classroom, which is modeled after a setup at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 16, 2009

Podcast with Baltimore County superintendent -- and others

Came across this new podcast with Baltimore County’s Superintendent Joe A. Hairston. In an interview, Hairston discusses his tenure in the school system and the meaning of the election of President Obama.

The site, aptly called District Leader's Podcast, features a number of other interviews with education leaders from around the nation. For those school junkies out there, it might be interesting to tune in to hear superintendents present and past, sharing their thoughts on leadership and education.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:57 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County

March 10, 2009

Changes at Dundalk High School

Tonight, the Baltimore County school board is supposed to consider a plan to give Dundalk High School something of a makeover - or what is officially called an "alternative governance plan."

As I mention in today's story, Dundalk has already had a new principal since July - and school officials are now in the process of interviewing and selecting teachers to replace the 20 to 25 percent who are leaving. Several other changes already have been made during this school year, including the use of a 90-minute daily reading instruction program to improve student performance in that area; HSA tutoring after school, Saturdays and in the summer; and professional development specifically tailored to teachers' needs.

But there are a number of other steps proposed in the plan, which officials were required to develop because Dundalk has not made adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for its graduation rate, special education students and English language learners over the past five years (at different times).

Those steps include:

*Changing the department chairs in core subjects to 12-month employees, to enhance their effectiveness

*Collaborating more with fellow English-language-learner programs.  Dundalk is an ELL cluster school.

*Increasing the number of advanced placement courses offered. The plan includes a goal of raising the number of students enrolled in honors, gifted-and-talented and AP classes by 10 percent each year.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, Testing

March 6, 2009

Jemicy School's acquisition of Ruxton Country School

In a story in today's paper on Jemicy's plans to acquire Ruxton Country School in Owings Mills, I mentioned that, after the 2009-2010 academic year, Ruxton Country students would be helped with placement at another school - or accepted at Jemicy.

Jemicy's Head of School, Ben Shifrin, told me this morning that Ruxton students would have priority, provided they meet the admissions criteria.

"I think that’s only an ethical and fair thing to do," Shifrin said.

Until that time, the two schools will remain separate entities.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:53 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County

March 5, 2009

Online schooling in Maryland, part deux

Got an interesting call related to the online learning advocacy group I wrote about earlier this week.

Maryland Senator James C. Rosapepe filed a bill today titled "Funding Formula to Expand K-12 Online Education," which he says aims to build on the state’s already existing Maryland Virtual School. MVS provides online classes at the high school level.

"Basically, Maryland is way behind" when it comes to promoting online courses in public schools – especially when compared to states like Florida and other countries, Rosapepe said in a phone interview.

Part of the reason for that, Rosepepe said, is that the funding structure hasn’t kept up with the kids. So he’s drafted a bill to start catching up, and provide the money for virtual schooling to grow swiftly as the demand increases. For the students taking online classes, he proposes, 90 percent of the per-pupil spending that would normally go to the traditional schools would be directed to the virtual one. In other words, he said, the money would follow the student.

The proposal also calls for some money for an initial expansion of course offerings, ideally coming from the federal education stimulus funds, he said.

Besides providing access to more courses – including the ones that usually don’t get enough students enrolled for a traditional classroom – the virtual school also has the potential to save taxpayers money in the long run, Rosapepe said, citing the hundreds of millions state and local government pay annually for school construction.

When I get an official number for the proposed legislation, I’ll post a link.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:03 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

March 4, 2009

Pushing for online instruction in Baltimore County and beyond

A handful of Baltimore County parents are in the process of incorporating a group to advocate for access to alternative education - particularly online instruction - for all Maryland students.

The idea for Emerging Minds of Maryland was born sometime last fall, said Kia Drake-Cummings, the organization's president and a mother of seven.  Drake-Cummings and several others regularly spoke at county school board meetings for months, asking board members to reconsider funding the Baltimore County Virtual Instruction Program - a one-year pilot done in conjunction with the Baltimore-based, online Connections Academy

When it became evident that they were getting nowhere, Drake-Cummings said she began thinking about forming a cooperative program, as home-schooling parents do to help socialize their children, or to exchange services and academic skills.  But then she realized this was "more than just a co-op," she said.  "We need to be working toward some other things."

She and a few others decided they needed strength in numbers - and a more official platform - to fight for their cause.

One of the key goals of Emerging Minds is to get access to online instruction for public school students - an appealing element of the county pilot.

Living up to their online emphasis, the founders have launched pages on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Parents

February 27, 2009

Video of Woodlawn robot as team looks back, ahead

Robotics season is upon us. Today, robots that high school students and advisers have been frantically assembling for the past few weeks have started to roll into action, at a tournament at the D.C. convention center.  My editor, Patricia Fanning, shares images from last season and  details on the season ahead:

This weekend's regional competition, sponsored by FIRST and supported by NASA, features 65 listed teams, including at least nine from high schools in the Baltimore area. One is Team 768, known as the TechnoWarriors, based at Woodlawn High School. Mentors Fred and Robyn Needel were at the center yesterday for tune-ups and practice and say this event would be perfect for newcomers to check out, given that FIRST’s founder, as well as Obama Administration figures, are likely to go. Last year, a photographer and reporter from The Sun tagged along as the team of Woodlawn students and home schoolers built and then went to battle with its robot, The Claw. The season started in the school basement and ended at the Georgia Dome, as shown in this video. 

Continue reading "Video of Woodlawn robot as team looks back, ahead" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:41 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 20, 2009

Update on new Towson elementary school

Towson Families United, Baltimore County's grassroots group formed to find a solution to the overcrowding problem in Towson-area schools, has spotted some "unofficial" signs of construction life at the site for the new elementary school.  The sight of construction equipment out by Ridge Ruxton School, where the new school is to be built, might help alleviate the concerns of parents who have questioned whether the school could possibly be built on schedule.

The blog has also spotted the school board's upcoming agenda item on the naming of the new facility.  School officials are proposing the school be named West Towson Elementary, citing the area from which it will draw students as the reason.  That wouldn't be a dramatic departure from what the school has already been called in previous conversations and school board meetings: Towson West Elementary.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

February 13, 2009

National reading expert comes to Baltimore County

A group of Baltimore County educators spent today in reading presentations by literacy expert Dr. Richard Allington, whom I spoke with for a recent story about independent reading programs.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston introduced Allington, a professor of literacy studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, as "the Bill Gates of reading."

He added that Allington is one of the few individuals in the country who truly understands the significance of that skill and has mastered the teaching of it -- "and is willing to share it with those of us who are in the trenches."

Allington does not mince words when it comes to his belief in the importance of properly teaching children how to read: allowing them to read what interests them, and giving them access to such material at their reading levels.

His morning session to BCPS administrators and principals did not spare anyone, as he condemned widely used, "one size fits all" reading programs that, he said, essentially do nothing for children. I thought I’d share some of his noteworthy observations here, as well as some references and links to material he cited during his presentation.

Continue reading "National reading expert comes to Baltimore County" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:13 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, NCLB, SpecialEd, Teaching, Testing

February 4, 2009

Character education in schools

My story today about a new character education initiative at Baltimore County's Kenwood High School is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this field.

I came across a lot of interesting information about a variety of models used throughout the state, and thought I'd share some of those additional details here.

Several people I spoke with emphasized the importance of data in using these programs. Tom Zirpoli, a McDaniel College education professor, mentioned how tricky it can be to link behavioral changes directly back to school or classroom discussions about honesty or other principles. Nancy Hanlin, one of the Kenwood teachers who also happens to be the attendance and tardiness monitor, mentioned trying to figure out a way to do just that.   

Continue reading "Character education in schools" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:59 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

February 3, 2009

Seventh District: Celebrating its Blue Ribbon status

State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and Baltimore County Superintendent Joe Hairston were at Seventh District Elementary this morning for a special assembly marking the elementary's being named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School.

Seventh District was one of six schools to receive that honor in December. The other schools are Western High School in Baltimore, Southern High in Anne Arundel County, Hammond Middle in Howard County, Highland Elementary in Montgomery County and Stephen Decatur Middle in Worcester County. (The state can recognize up to six schools, and selects them based on high performance and/or significant improvement in reading and math.)

Seventh District, along with the others, will represent Maryland in the national Blue Ribbon Schools competition, for which winners are expected to be announced this fall.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Dumbarton Middle School parent meeting

Dumbarton Middle School parents met last night to discuss plans to move Rodgers Forge fourth-graders over to Dumbarton this fall. 

The change in venue (this meeting was at DMS) wasn't the only thing that differed from last Monday's meeting at Rodgers Forge.  Only a dozen parents were in attendance for the session that lasted about 45 minutes - compared with more than two hours last week - and things were decidedly more low-key. 

Principal Nancy Fink and Lyle Patzkowsky fielded parent questions - of which there were also decidedly fewer than those coming from the 70 or so parents at Rodgers Forge last week.  But here are a few additional tidbits regarding plans for next year, which Fink described as having "pretty minimal" impact on her school:

Continue reading "Dumbarton Middle School parent meeting" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 30, 2009

Baltimore County school board on budget details

The Baltimore County school board’s work session last night focused a lot on the details in the $1.32 billion proposal for the 2010 fiscal year, as I noted in today’s story. Their interest in the small stuff reflected their awareness of tight financial times – and the limited funds at their discretion.

Member Meg O’Hare, in particular, observed that while the budget isn’t normally her forte, she’d made a point of examining it more closely this time around. She wanted to make sure that money was going toward things that have been proven to work – especially when it came to money allocated to elementary-school language arts. Many of her questions were about reading: 

Continue reading "Baltimore County school board on budget details " »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:20 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

January 28, 2009

Baltimore and Carroll counties' board meetings canceled

The Baltimore County work session has been moved to tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m., weather permitting.

The Carroll County Board of Ed's meeting this afternoon is also canceled.  It's been rescheduled for Feb. 4 at 5 p.m., with an operating budget hearing and work session to follow.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Rodgers Forge update: The first parent meeting

Baltimore County schools officials said they would seek to better communicate with Rodgers Forge parents, at the first of several meetings for those affected by plans to move fourth-graders down the road to Dumbarton Middle School this fall.

A number of parents at the more than two-hour meeting, which took place Monday night at the elementary, said they felt they’d been left out of the decision-making process. One mother described the letter sent home to parents about the move as "a bomb."

In response to a request from several of them, school officials in attendance agreed to be better about keeping them in the loop – particularly with regard to the timeline for building the new Towson elementary school slated to open Aug. 2010.  One father suggested forming some kind of parent group to be more involved in the planning process moving forward – an idea to which Lyle Patzkowsky, the central area assistant superindent, seemed amenable.

The communication issue was one of several questions, concerns and comments the 70 or so parents had for school officials in attendance.  Besides Patzkowsky, Susan Deise, the Rodgers Forge principal; Nancy Fink, who heads Dumbarton; and Michele Prumo, executive director of the planning department were there. Some of the other highlights follow:


Continue reading "Rodgers Forge update: The first parent meeting" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 26, 2009

Rodgers Forge fourth-graders: on the move

The first of several meetings on the plan to move Rodgers Forge Elementary’s fourth-graders to Dumbarton Middle for the 2009-2010 school year is tonight at 7 p.m. at the elementary school.

Why move fourth-graders, as opposed to another class? Rodgers Forge Principal Susan Deise offered several reasons. School officials eliminated students who wouldn’t fit in the "general setting" at Dumbarton. For example, kindergartners couldn’t go because they can’t be on the second floor. And then they also had to consider whether the kids could reach the lockers designed for middle-schoolers.

Officials – and parents – didn’t want fifth-graders robbed of the perks of their final year: the clubs, concerts, field trips and special events that "culminate the elementary experience." Fifth-graders also get to do safety patrol.

Continue reading "Rodgers Forge fourth-graders: on the move" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 22, 2009

T-shirt helps kids, commemorates history

The hottest T-shirt in town to commemorate Barack Obama's inauguration is designed by ... a seventh-grader from East Baltimore. Jazzmine Alson, who now attends Pikesville Middle School after her mother's move from the city to the county, painted an amazing portrait of Obama last summer while participating in the Bridges program at St. Paul's School.

Bridges is a summer program at the private school serving 124 rising fourth- through ninth-graders from Title 1 schools in East Baltimore. It's also starting a job placement component for older kids. During the academic year, it has after-school tutoring, mentoring and sports for about 30 fourth- and fifth-graders. Jazzmine was at Govans Elementary when she entered the program.

So, about this portrait Jazzmine painted. You can see for yourself. Incredible, right? So much so that the folks at Bridges decided to have it turned into a T-shirt. They had 400 printed off the bat and they sold like hotcakes for $12 apiece -- at the mayor's office, the Mt. Washington Whole Foods, Evergreen Cafe, Greg's Bagels, and on the streets of Washington.

Now, they're setting their sights higher. Amid the economic downturn, the sale of the shirts will help keep Bridges  afloat and send Jazzmine to college one day. The shirts cost $4.50 each to make. A dollar from each sale is going into a college scholarship fund for Jazzmine; the remaining $6.50 goes to Bridges.

Want to buy one? The shirts will be available for order here starting later today.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:29 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

January 14, 2009

Baltimore County budget: let the season officially begin

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe Hairston has presented his proposed operating budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

One of the bigger items in the spending plan: long-sought pay increases for teachers (and all other school employees). Hairston calls for about $23.5 million to restructure employee salaries.  No word yet on what percent increase this would translate into for the individual, but this development should please many in the district.  The decision last year to provide no more than step increases was met with quite a bit of protest - and at last night's meeting, the teachers union again emphasized the need for salary increases.

Overall, Hairston is asking for about $74 million more than the current budget.  At a time when districts throughout the state are trying to figure out what exactly they can fund in these tight times, it will be interesting to see how this public portion of the budget cycle goes. Hairston said last night that the fiscal responsibility that BCPS exercised for the current budget has allowed the system to propose pay raises. But he also indicated that things on the revenue side remain uncertain. The state, for instance, has yet to decide what cuts in local funding might be coming.

Tonight is the public hearing - 7 p.m. at Ridge Ruxton School in Towson. Will keep you posted.

And btw: Carroll County Superintendent Charles Ecker is up next, with his own presentation tonight.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 8:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

January 8, 2009

Tonight: Calvert Hall marching band at the BCS Championship game

For those of you watching tonight's BCS National Championship football game between the Florida Gators and Oklahoma Sooners, pay extra special attention at the start and during halftime.

On the field will be Calvert Hall's competition marching band, which won the Band Championship Series National Championship in Miami yesterday with awards in five of six areas: music, marching, percussion, color guard and general effect. The band championship is hosted by BCS (the Bowl Championship Series) and another partner, and involves bands throughout the country.

Calvert Hall will join fellow bands to peform the national anthem before the game, and will also perform during halftime, after the college bands.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 2:25 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 17, 2008

Cooling Baltimore County schools

I’ve had a couple stories in the paper this week about air conditioning in Baltimore County schools -- an ongoing hot (no pun intended) topic. A new staff report on facilities had brought the issue to the fore again, and last night’s work session provided some additional info I wasn’t able to get into today’s article.

Some folks had expressed disappointment in the report’s lack of detail, but the facilities staff showed up in full force at last night’s work session -- about 10 staff members were there -- and provided information and answers that fleshed things out more.

Continue reading "Cooling Baltimore County schools" »

Posted by Arin Gencer at 7:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 4, 2008

More on Baltimore County enrollment

My story today on balancing enrollment between two elementary schools in southeast Baltimore County takes a closer look at how being over or under capacity plays out on the ground, within the school buildings themselves. 

What I found particularly interesting was how reality flouted assumptions that some people make about schools that aren't overcrowded.  Having fewer students does not necessarily translate into smaller classes -- a fact that I think is forgotten in the more common (and absolutely necessary) discussions about alleviating overcrowded facilities, such as Rodgers Forge, the county's most overcapacity school.

But redistricting won't solve enrollment problems in every area, as some folks have pointed out to me: In the county's central area, for example, redrawing boundary lines so that every seat in every Towson-area school is filled would still leave the school system about 400 seats short. But of course, some relief, in the form of the so-called Towson West Elementary, is on the way.  (Thanks to Cathi Forbes for this observation today.)

Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 3, 2008

The new Carver Center

The new building planned for the magnet Carver Center for Arts and Technology is moving forward, with plans to start the construction process come spring.  In my story today, I share some of the details from the presentation by the architect (DC-area Grimm + Parker) last night. 

For the curious, the entire presentation, including some drawings depicting layout, is here.

The school board approved the building for LEED certification, so a number of green-building options are being explored.  Among them is the use of natural daylight, which, interestingly enough, fosters better learning (and student performance) -- if done right, the architect said.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 20, 2008

Black, white and read: All over?

Our intrepid crime columnist/blogger Peter Hermann ventured into new territory yesterday: a Baltimore County elementary school's career day. Keep reading for his hilarious (and humbling) account of trying to interest kids in a newspaper.

Continue reading "Black, white and read: All over?" »

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

November 18, 2008

Baltimore County enrollment ebbs

For those interested in the ebb and flow of students in Baltimore County schools, check out this story about the latest report on enrollments and projections. 

Basically, the county has continued to see a slight drop in enrollment -- with pockets of growth and decline throughout the region.  

Some highlights: Enrollment as of Sept. 30 stands at 103,643.  Rodgers Forge Elementary is the county's most overcrowded school, nearly 80 percent over its capacity (709 students total there).  The central and northeast areas of the county are seeing the most growth, while the southeast and southwest are generally stable, if not declining. 

This report follows the city school system's announcement (and Sara's story) earlier this month about an expected increase in enrollment for the first time in decades. City schools had 81,274 students in 2007, and officials anticipate that number will rise to about 82,000.

For a look at the county's report, which will be presented to the school board tomorrow night, you can go here.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County, Trends

November 15, 2008

More on high schools and AYP

A few more things regarding AYP, which didn't make it into my story today:

The state doesn't know when it will have the results up on its Web site,  There was some talk of next week, but no promises.

I also had the chance to talk with Milford Mill Academy Principal Nathaniel Gibson, who explained the steps his school took to walk off the state's watch list this year.  Gibson, who is in his sixth year at the school. pointed to several factors: introducing small learning communities, or "schools within schools"; grant funding that allowed for additional professional development and summer and after-school programs for students needing extra help; and getting more highly qualified teachers at Milford. (Ronald Peiffer, the deputy state superintendent, also indicated the latter was an important factor in many school systems.)

Gibson also said the school has doubled its AP offerings and set up a partnership with Morgan State University that brings in student teachers.  His own teachers have also been attending for graduate-level credit.

Last week, the school celebrated its accomplishment during two assemblies, when students were thanked for their efforts - and encouraged to keep it up.

Besides Milford Mill, Carver Vo-Tech in Baltimore City and seven other schools hit the targets. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

November 14, 2008

High schools meeting AYP

MSDE released its 2008 report today on high schools that have made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind.

Two schools in the Baltimore region- one in the city and one in the county - have worked their way off the improvement list: Carver Vo-Tech and Milford Mill Academy.  They are among nine schools to have done so.

Three schools have been added to the list: one of them appears to be the city's charter high school, the Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences.

As Sara has reported before, the city school system as a whole made AYP this year for high schools because of the large number that have improved. Twenty-one city high schools
made AYP this year, up from 11 last year.

Stay tuned for more...

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County

November 2, 2008

High School Assessments: Are they finally for real?

In the ongoing saga that is the High School Assessments, my story in today's paper takes a look at how Baltimore County is tackling the 1,000+ students in the Class of 2009 who have yet to meet the test requirements for graduation.

An interesting theme developed as I spoke with principals about the work their schools have been doing with these students.  Several mentioned that one of the obstacles in this process has involved simply getting students to buy into the fact that these tests really do matter - and could keep them from graduating.

Sometimes, Parkville High Principal Stephen Edgar told me, "it's not about ability or their lack of ability.  It's about whether they take the test seriously or not."

Barbara Cheswick, the principal at New Town High, said she was "thrilled" to hear the state board had voted down a proposal to delay the HSA graduation requirement - in part because, since the tests' introduction, students haven't always bought into the fact that they were "the real thing."

Getting parents involved and aware of these requirements - and where their kids stand - has been one way schools have tried to bring home the reality of the situation, Edgar said.  When parents are also working on HSA exercises with their children, he said, it sends a message about their importance, reinforcing what students have been hearing in school.

I'm curious what educators and parents in other school systems have encountered...and what role they think student buy-in has played with the HSAs up until now.  Do you think the state's vote to maintain the graduation requirement will nix student doubts and get them to take these exams seriously?
Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, NCLB, Testing

October 13, 2008

Dumbarton Middle School on NBC

Dumbarton Middle School, a high-performing, diverse middle school, is being featured tonight on the NBC Nightly News, according to the Baltimore County school system. The school is being featured in a segment on diversity in America. Among the school's population of about 900 are 120 students from 38 nations who speak 32 different languages.

In 1990, Baltimore County had 873 students who needed special services because they were learning English as their second language. Today, there are about 3,000.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

October 8, 2008

More on teacher pay...

In today's paper, I wrote about another chapter in the ongoing conflict of Baltimore County schools vs. teachers (and other system employees).  While the hundreds who protested at the Board of Education were pleased that members decided not to switch to a single provider for 403(b) plans, the call for a 2 percent pay raise (recommended by a mediation panel) is still at issue.

The pay raise issue here popped into my head this morning when I stumbled across this item about a very well-paying teaching job in New York City. Teachers, what do you think?  Would you be up for a gig that paid $125,000 a year?  This charter school may be for you.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 11:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, Teaching

October 7, 2008

Teachers protest planned this evening

The Baltimore County teachers union, along with the school system's four other bargaining groups, is planning a protest this evening before the board's regularly scheduled meeting.  This is a continuation of the ongoing dispute over pay raises for teachers, which I've mentioned here.

But the unions also say they're protesting the board's possible moving to a single 403(b) investment provider, instead of the current multiple vendors they have to choose from. 

This protest follows one TABCO held this spring at the county courthouse, when the union was pushing for at least a 3 percent pay raise for teachers.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:18 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

September 25, 2008

Baltimore County teachers upset over latest no pay-raise vote

Members of the Baltimore County teachers union will be meeting tomorrow night to contemplate their response to a recent school board vote against a pay raise. Teachers are also planning to show up in full force at the next board meeting Oct. 7 to express their displeasure.

As I reported earlier this week, the board voted against accepting a mediation panel's recommendation to give teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living increase -- another step in an ongoing conflict that began with planning the budget for the current school year.

Cheryl Bost, the union president, said the group plans to discuss their possible responses tomorrow evening.  She said teachers do understand the dire financial situation the whole country is in, and that we are facing tough times all around.  But they also feel as though it's a question of budgeting priorities, she added.

Bost said she's gotten several e-mails from teachers saying they'll be leaving the county.  She herself has expressed concerns about remaining competitive so people want to stay -- or come -- to BCPS.

"The irritations are mounting," she said.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:59 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

September 24, 2008

Pinwheels update

Here's that video I promised, from the Pinwheels for Peace ceremony at Woodmoor Elementary earlier this week...



Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

September 22, 2008

Pinwheels for Peace

Earlier this morning, fifth-graders at Woodmoor Elementary in Baltimore County filed out of their school building to a hill where a large peace symbol was painted in orange on the dewy grass.

They carried multi-colored paper pinwheels with them, crafted and decorated over the course of two weeks as they discussed the meaning of peace as part of an art project. Their creations and a ceremony this morning served to commemorate the International Day of Peace, which was yesterday.

This year was a first for Woodmoor. Dozens of other schools in Baltimore County and beyond also participated in Pinwheels for Peace, an annual event that originated with two Florida art teachers in 2005. The art installation project allows students to "make a public visual statement about their feelings about war/ peace/ tolerance/ cooperation/ harmony/ unity and, in some way, maybe, awaken the public and let them know what the next generation is thinking," according to the Pinwheels Web site. "This is not political."

Woodmoor art teacher Beverly Humbert and school social worker Kristina Millian spearheaded the project, something that Principal Edith Howard said she was pleased to take on.  She addressed students before they stuck their pinwheels in the ground, along the outline of the peace symbol.

There’ll be some video from this morning here later today, so stay tuned…. Some of the kids shared their thoughts and had some interesting things to say.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 12:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

August 25, 2008

Imagine Discovery to open tomorrow

Imagine Discovery, Baltimore County's first public charter school, will open tomorrow, Aug. 26.  Word is the fire marshal came for the final inspection this morning, and the school is now good to go.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Charter Schools

August 22, 2008

Imagine Discovery won't be open Monday

Just got word that Baltimore County's first charter school will be closed for the first day of classes - Monday, Aug. 25. 

The reason?  Pat Crain, the regional director for Imagine Schools, tells me that the school just needs a final inspection from the fire marshal to get its occupancy permit.  The fire marshal couldn't get out there today - which is why they won't be opening Monday.  But they're hoping the inspection will take place on Monday, Crain said, so the students can start Tuesday. 

The school, Imagine Discovery, is located in renovated office space in a building in the Woodlawn area. Crain said completion of the gymnasium kept them from getting the inspection done earlier.

Parents will be notified to verify opening day - and we'll also keep you posted here.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 5:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Charter Schools

August 20, 2008

Teacher of the Year finalists

This just in: The finalists for 2009 Maryland Teacher of the Year:

  • John Billingslea, Baltimore County
  • Mary Catherine Stephens, Carroll County
  • Sharon Thomas, Cecil County
  • William Thomas, Prince George’s County
  • Sharon Richards, Somerset County
  • Julie Harp, Talbot County
  • Debra Wilkins, Wicomico County
  • Amy Gallagher, Worcester County

The winner will be announced Oct. 3.  Check out the official word from MSDE.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:05 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Teaching

August 13, 2008

School board changes meeting format

For the past couple days, I've been writing about proposed changes to the way the Baltimore County school board conducts its meetings.

Last night, members approved one of the revised policies, turning one of their two monthly meetings into a work session that would allow them to explore issues in-depth - without public comment. But the board tabled the other proposal, which involves more narrowly defining who qualifies as a so-called "stakeholder group," a unit typically invited to address the board.

Several people within and outside of the groups that would lose that opportunity expressed their concerns about that change - among them members of the grass-roots Baltimore County Education Coalition.

What I wasn't able to get into today's story is board President JoAnn Murphy's explanation on why they decided to pull the stakeholder item: for further study.  Murphy said amendments on that item were already anticipated - but there was no consensus among members on what exactly those amendments should be.  In short, board members themselves had questions on the item.

She said some members plan to sit down with folks from the coalition, and hopes the board will take the issue up again next month.

Throughout this discussion, there has been some suggestion that the board should not have tackled this during the summer months, as people are in and out with vacations and other activities, and not focused on meeting agendas.  Murphy has noted that these policies have followed the same process as every other - three readings, including time for public comment and a vote with the third reading.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 8:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

August 1, 2008

Mike Adams, an editor who knows the system

Today is the last day at The Sun for more than 40 of my colleagues who accepted a voluntary buyout. One of them is Gina Davis, who's done a great job covering Baltimore County education the past few years. Someone else leaving has been integral to this blog, though you've never seen his name on the site.

Mike Adams, a quarter-century veteran of the newspaper, served as our education editor, and since I started covering the Baltimore schools three years ago, he's been my direct supervisor. In recent months, he overcame his aversion to technology to edit and schedule our daily postings.

A native of Turners Station, Mike comes from a long line of educators in Baltimore city and county public schools. I first sent him an interoffice message when I was working in the Towson bureau and trying to land an interview with his cousin, who was principal of Woodlawn Middle School at the time. 

Mike was a terrific choice to oversee a young out-of-towner like me because he has so much institutional knowledge to share – about our workplace, the city schools and Baltimore in general. And as a white reporter covering a predominantly black school system, it was extremely helpful for me to have an African-American editor with whom I could frankly discuss racially sensitive issues.

I love how Mike knows the history of seemingly every person whose name is on a Baltimore school building. The first time I wrote a story about Dr. Samuel L. Banks High, he told me about how Sam Banks used to write long-winded letters to the editor of The Sun using the biggest words in the dictionary. Once, when an article of mine mentioned Tench Tilghman Elementary, Mike was upset he didn't know who Tench Tilghman was. We had to stop right there and look it up. (We learned that Tilghman was an Army officer in the Revolutionary War who was born in Maryland.)

Can you tell we had fun?

Mike's wisdom and insight helped me to tell stories with greater nuance and sophistication. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:37 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

July 30, 2008

Baltimore County school board appointments

Maggie Kennedy, a national education consultant and Baltimore County community activist, applied for a position on the school board. The governor announced the appointments yesterday, and Kennedy did not receive one of the volunteer positions. She sent this letter via e-mail to her friends this morning.  

Dear Friends,
I am extremely gratified and humbled by the recent outpouring of community support for a recent appointment opportunity to the Baltimore County School Board. Since last Friday, I know of 52  letters or phone calls of support that reached Jim Smith, the governor and his appointment secretary. Many of you reached out to other Baltimore County community leaders and for your support I am grateful. Please pass on thanks to others I may have not included in my email. 
As many of you are aware, I did not apply for the position, but was approached by the governor's brother, Peter O'Malley. I was surprised by the call in early May, but was ready for the challenge. My vocation and avocation has always centered around student achievement, parent involvement, and a responsible school system. A safe and financially sound school system is necessary, but student success measures community success.

The customers are our children and parents and good teachers make all the difference. I have been privy to meet and work with so many great teachers in our county. Their support and commitment to student achievement make them true role models and leaders.

Children are not Democrats, Republicans, or Independents and deserve representation which serves them well.  I hope the new appointments serve our children well. Student achievement and community safety dictates the destiny of our county. Monies in both categories are well invested and spent. 

Valerie Roddy, former assistant to BC Government Fred Homan, David Oldfelder, CPA. and James Coleman, retired Coppin math teacher, have a responsibility to more than the capital and operating budget. They have a huge responsibility to the achievement of children in our school system. I wish them success and hope the school board continues to respond to the PDK audit and the recommendations.

Our school facilities need updating, air conditioning is needed in all of our schools, a new high school in the NE/central area, and a new  elementary school in the Towson area are needed to address overcrowding. The curriculum needs to meet the needs of a diverse student population, as well as meet national, state and local standards to prepare our Baltimore County children to compete in a global society and teachers need to be paid equitably for experience and effective teachers rewarded.

As advocates and community leaders, thank you. Each of you have been an inspiration and care deeply about the success of a generation of our children. My respect for each of you and appreciation of your contributions to our Baltimore County community inspires me.

Hold our leaders accountable.

Warmest Regards,
Maggie Kennedy

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:00 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Baltimore County

July 25, 2008

Report tracks African-American boys

The Schott Foundation for Public Education today released a report on the state of education as it pertains to African-American males. It also launched an interactive Web site with all sorts of interesting information about the achievement gap for black boys. Check it out here.

The report contains data not only for the 50 states, but also for their largest school districts. According to Schott's calculations, Maryland's graduation rate for black boys in 2005-2006 was slightly higher than the national average: 55 percent, compared with 47 percent nationally. That's due in part to the fact that Baltimore County reported one of the nation's highest graduation rates for African-American males, 72 percent. Montgomery County's rate was 69 percent and Prince George's was 59 percent. And then there was Baltimore City: 31 percent.

Using data from 2004-2005, the report said white, non-Hispanic boys were admitted to gifted and talented programs in Baltimore at twice the rate of black boys. Four times as many white boys as black participated in math Advanced Placement courses. Nine times as many white boys took science A.P. courses. Although this information is nearly four years old, it highlights the opportunities that have long existed for the small number of white students (less than 10 percent of total enrollment) in the city school system.

The report's release and the Web site launch coincided with this week's UNITY convention of 10,000 journalists of color, who gathered in Chicago.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:43 PM | | Comments (5)

July 17, 2008

A jump in seventh-grade MSA scores

Has anyone noticed how much the seventh-grade Maryland state test results went up in reading this year?

Across the state, 81.2 percent of seventh graders passed the reading MSA, up 10 percentage points from last year. In Baltimore City, the gain was much steeper, going up 18 points. In Prince George's, the scores were up 14 points. In Kent County, the increase was from 59 percent passing to 79 percent. In Baltimore County, the pass rate went from 68 percent to 81 percent.

Readers have asked how this could have happened in one year. The head of assessment for the state, Leslie Wilson, points out that there was a strong bump up in fifth grade as well. Her explanation is that if one looks back at how last year's seventh-graders did when they were in sixth grade, the results don't look as surprising.

In other words, we shouldn't be comparing this year's seventh-graders to the kids who were in seventh grade the year before, but to how they actually did when they were younger. Viewed that way, the results do look less startling.

For instance, 76 percent of sixth graders in 2006-2007 passed the state reading test. This year, 81 percent of those students passed the tests. In other words, the increase was just 5 percentage points. There are still some very large gains in Somerset and Cecil counties, for instance, which still went up more than 10 percentage points.

And there are still some increases that seem difficult to explain in other grades and on the math test. Are there any teachers or administrators who have theories on what happened?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Testing

July 9, 2008

Suspended students to attend school at North Avenue

With Dr. Alonso and a half-dozen other school system officials up at Harvard for a conference this week, I thought last night's board meeting would be a quiet one. There wasn't much on the published agenda, and -- for once! -- not a single person signed up public comment. But a few items were tacked on to the end of the agenda, and that's where things got interesting. As I report in today's paper, the board approved locations for its two new alternative schools. And as we've been speculating on this blog, one of them is going in North Avenue.

Now, everyone who works for the city school system will have to interact with students. What a concept.

While officials initially looked at placing the school for over-age middle school students inside system headquarters, they ultimately decided the space configuration worked better with the school that will serve students on long-term suspension and expulsion. The school for over-age middle school students will be temporarily located at Chinquapin Middle.

Other news last night: Up in Towson, the Baltimore County school board named Patty Abernethy, the city school system's deputy chief of staff, as its new chief academic officer. Because of a last-minute change, the city school board didn't make its personnel agenda immediately available (supposedly, it will be online by this morning), but I'm told that Michael Carter, the previous chair of the Parent and Community Advisory Board, was named the system's director of parent involvement. As chair of both PCAB and the Facilities Solutions steering committee, Carter has volunteered hundreds of hours for the school system in recent years; he has been on the payroll as a consultant the past few months.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:01 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore City, Baltimore County

June 17, 2008

Will smaller high schools graduate more students?

Here's an interesting article about an initiative in Michigan aimed at reducing the size of high schools. It's an especially timely article for those of you who may be following the debate locally about school size, an issue recently brought into sharper focus in Baltimore County because of a failed proposal to expand Loch Raven High School.

Click here for my article from last week about the school board's decision to nix the expansion plan at Loch Raven High School. And here for my article on County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s response to the board's action.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:57 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, Trends

A dose of inspiration

If you haven't already caught it, please take a moment to read today's story about Joseph Kaminski, a centenarian who has worked as a bindery technician for the Baltimore County public school system for nearly three decades and says he plans to stay as long as his "body will allow."

Joseph -- who remarks that even the doctors want to know his secret to long life -- offered this gem of wisdom: Keep busy.

"You have to continue using the brain and the body for the circulation of the blood," he said.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

June 12, 2008

Things are heating up in Towson

Parents in the Towson area are hot under the collar after Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. decided yesterday that $12 million that had been budgeted for the expansion of Loch Raven High School will instead go toward other projects after the county school board unanimously voted to rescind its approval of the proposed addition (as reported in my story today).

Some have questioned why the money wouldn't instead be put toward adding air condition to the many schools that lack it. On Monday, Baltimore County closed all its schools three hours early because of the heat. While other counties closed a school here or there, Baltimore County closed all its schools because so many --- about half of them --- lack air conditioning that it made little sense to keep any of them open.

One community activist, Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, whose son attends Ridgely Middle School (which recently completed a $13 million renovation, but still lacks air conditioning), drove home this point in a WBAL radio interview this week:

"They need just $900,000 to add air conditioning," she said. "They now have windows that don't open at all or that open only six inches. The temperatures are 10 degrees hotter than it is outside."

On Smith's role, she added that his decision to put the $12 million into other projects without seeing whether the school board might support adding air conditioning to some of these school, "creates resentment."

"There's a feeling he is not thinking about the people in these schools, about the students and the teachers that are suffering much more with the lack of air conditioning, which is a health issue as well as an education issue, rather than repaving parking lots, loading dock replacements and footbridge replacements," Taylor-Mitchell said on the WBAL radio show.

In an interview yesterday, Smith said he is directing the $12 million toward these "site improvement" projects because the school board wants them done. He said the projects, part of a list that totals $20 million, were requested early in the budget process and only $2 million was able to be allocated for them. Scrapping the Loch Raven addition frees up that money, he said.

I have a call into the school system officials to find out if it would have been an option for the school board --- had they been consulted yesterday before Smith's decision --- to suggest using that freed up $12 million toward air conditioning projects in the coming year. Are there logistical or technical constraints? Is it as simple as, If only he had first asked the board what they wanted to do with the "found" money?

I'll update this post later with whatever response the school system is able to offer.


5:56 pm. Thursday --- I just finished talking to Kara Calder, spokeswoman for the school system. She confirmed that, to her knowledge, the county executive did not contact school system officials before announcing his decision yesterday.

As for whether the money could've instead been targeted at adding air condition to schools, Calder explained that before any changes (such as adding projects not previously equested) could be made to the school system's capital improvements program list of projects for the fiscal year that starts July 1, all parties --- meaning the school board, county executive and county council --- would have to agree.

About the projects that Smith has recommended, Calder said, "The site improvements are much-needed projects. Some have been carried over for two or three years. There are definitely some significant needs there."

Posted by Gina Davis at 12:48 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

June 5, 2008

High expectations in Baltimore County

Shortly after this week's news that the Baltimore County school system has the fourth-highest graduation rate among the nation's 50 largest school districts, I caught up with county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston at the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex. (See today's article.)

Hairston was there with a group of eighth-graders from Golden Ring Middle School, as part of a partnership between the school system and the community college to encourage the kids to start thinking about, and planning for, college.

While pleased with the county's graduation rate, he grew serious as he talked about the challenges that the school system faces to keep that high ranking. Not for the sake of rankings, but because of what those rankings represent, he said --- stability and effectiveness.

That means building strong programs at the elementary school level that will send students onto middle school ready for challenging courses that will prepare them for advance work in high school, he said. Middle school students have to come to the table with a solid foundation, ready to start thinking about their futures. He said he worries about the "bottle-neck" that is produced at the middle school level when too many students arrive behind grade level. But, he said, middle school is not the time to try to teach elementary-school concepts.

Hairston said he understands that some people may be worried about his plans to stop giving its middle schools federal Title I money that is aimed at schools with high concentrations of low-income students. (Click here for Wednesday's article on this news.) He said he understands that it sounds like he is taking away precious resources from the middle schools. But I think he summed it up best with these remarks:

"Spending (Title I) money for kids at the middle school level doesn't help if they are in eighth grade reading at the third-grade level. It makes more sense to invest that money in the elementary schools so those students don't get behind."

I've talked to some national education advocates, who seem to generally agree with Hairston's line of thinking. What are you thoughts?

Posted by Gina Davis at 8:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, School Finance

For schools, it's cool to be green

Kudos to the students and staffs at several Baltimore County public and private schools --- Dundalk Elementary, Franklin Middle, Jacksonville Elementary, Norwood Elementary, Pot Spring Elementary, the Rosedale School, and the Odyssey School --- that are the most recent to join a growing list of "Green Schools" by learning and engaging in activities that help preserve the environment.

The county leads the state in the number of "Green Schools," with 42 of them, according to county, school and community leaders who gathered in the garden at the Old Courthouse in Towson. Also recognized were two "Green Centers" that were added to the list --- Marshy Point Nature Center and the Herring Run Watershed Association --- for their environmental education efforts.

"Baltimore County truly is a model for the rest of the state," said Carol Towle, who is the Green School coordinator for the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

Since 1999, the nonprofit organization annually has recognized schools and centers for their efforts to teach children about the importance of protecting the environment. In that time, Baltimore County students have completed 650 projects, including tree plantings, recycling and pollution prevention.

Towle said the commitment of the county's schools demonstrates "the importance of having our young people accept the responsibility of preserving our planet."

MAEOE looks for examples of schools that tie the environmental lessons to the classroom --- such as incorporating math, English and reading skills into their projects.

For instance, at Pot Spring Elementary in Timonium (home to 580 children in pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade), students and staff built a 200-foot long lawn sculpture made of 500 recycled laundry detergent bottles as a show of how to "reuse" things. All of the school's children were involved --- including pre-kindergartners and kindergartners, who helped by sorting the bottles by color. Kids in other grades handled tasks such as cutting string to certain lengths.

"Every student tied a bottle to the sculpture," said Karen Harris, the school's principal.

Examples of projects from the other schools include:

* Students from the Rosedale School planted 600 trees at Fleming Park in Dundalk to help reduce erosion and improve water quality, and planted more than 200 trees to reforest areas near Peerce's Plantation. To reduce energy loss through "phantom," or hidden usage, the school installed power strips so computers could be turned off completely at the end of the day.

* At Franklin Middle, students collected and recycled more than 75 pounds of batteries. They took old furniture that was heading to the trash and refurbished it and sold it at an auction.

* Working to improve indoor air quality at Jacksonville Elementary, a team of "I Spy Inspectors" looked for blocked air vents, dirty filters and mold.

* Students at Norwood Elementary worked with an arborist to select trees to plant on one side of the building. The trees provide wildlife habitat and shade for classrooms.

* At Dundalk Elementary, fifth-graders wrote, illustrated and printed a book about the Chesapeake Bay that is used in the school's library as a reference text. They also worked with carpentry students from Sollers Point High School to build and install bluebird boxes.

* Students at the Odyssey School built, maintained and monitored a bluebird trail and bird feeding stations. They also designed, built and test solar cookers.

For a complete list of projects and previously named schools and centers, visit the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education's Web site.

Posted by Gina Davis at 8:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County, Trends

May 20, 2008

Debate over how to fix Baltimore County's high school overcrowding issue

Today's article about growing opposition to a proposed 400-seat addition at Loch Raven High School mentions a study conducted five years ago that recommends building a school to alleviate crowding in the county's northeast and central areas -- namely at Perry Hall and Towson high schools.

Here's a link to that study, called the Comprehensive High School Facility Utilization Study/DeJong Report  (which is in PDF form and is posted online at the school system's Web site,

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:59 AM | | Comments (0)

May 14, 2008

Towson group vows to keep close eye on school construction

This morning, I spotted this note from Cathi Forbes, whom I profiled in yesterday's paper, pledging the group's continued vigilance. After last week's victory convincing the Baltimore County school board to build an elementary school in Towson to help ease crowding, Forbes said the group will continue to keep a close eye throughout the process.

Read Cathi's note, which I came across on The Forge Flyer blog:

Continue reading "Towson group vows to keep close eye on school construction" »

Posted by Gina Davis at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 13, 2008

Doodle, doodle, come out of your hole...

Zach Urtes, a senior at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, is in the running as a regional winner in the "Doodle 4 Google" national competition. This year's contest challenged students in K-12 to "reinvent" the homepage logo of the online search engine's Web site based on the theme, "What if ... ?"

As one of 40 regional winners --- chosen from among thousands of doodles, according to Google --- Zach moves into the "public vote" portion of the contest for one of four national finalists awards. Online voting continues through Sunday, May 18. To vote, go to, click on "Vote Now."

The winning doodle is expected to replace Google's usual logo for 24 hours on the Web site's homepage on May 22.

You'll find Zach's entry --- which appears at the top of this post and is titled, "What if Artificial Intelligence flourished?" --- under Grades 10-12, Region 3. The accompanying description, posted on the contest's Web page, asks these questions: “What does the future hold? What if artificial intelligence was allowed limitless enhancement? I believe that technology will reach a point where machines will be engineered in our image. Using our own anatomy as a stepping point, what if the pursuit of perfection results in the new age of robotics?”

The national winner will receive a $10,000 college scholarship, a laptop computer, and a $25,000 grant to establish or improve the computer lab at his or her school. Each of the other three national finalists will win laptop computers.

Posted by Gina Davis at 5:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 6, 2008

Baltimore County's "grow your own" scholarship program

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston is scheduled tomorrow to award the system's second annual round of scholarship loans to three graduating seniors who are aspiring teachers.

The program, which I wrote about last year, is based on a "grow your own" concept. The hope is that these students, who must earn a degree from an approved Maryland teacher education program, will return to the county to teach. The students must pledge one year of service in a priority or Title I school for each year they receive the scholarship loan, worth $4,000 each year.

This year's recipients, according to a school system press release, are:

-- Ryan Goff, an honor student at Eastern Technical High School. He is taking Advanced Placement classes in psychology, English literature, and calculus and is a varsity track and cross-country team member. He is a member of the SAT 1300 Club (with an SAT score of 1360). (Last year, Ryan’s sister Meghan received this scholarship.) Ryan plans to teach secondary math.

-- Brittany McNeal, an honor student at Dundalk High School, where she is treasurer of the Future Educators Association and a varsity field hockey player. She takes courses at the Community College of Baltimore County in Dundalk. She is a member of her school’s Class of 2008 Steering Committee and Calculus Club, and volunteers with the Berkshire Area Community Association and Dundalk Renaissance Corp. Brittany plans to teach secondary math.

-- Malcolm Rowe, who plans to pursue technology education, has taken Advanced Placement psychology and environmental science courses and participated last year in Pikesville High School’s jazz and gospel choir. He volunteers with the Community Outreach Food Pantry.

Posted by Gina Davis at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching, Trends

May 5, 2008

The special-education debate for Towson's crowded schools

Tomorrow night's Baltimore County school board agenda includes a "special order of business," with officials from the Maryland State Department of Education expected to render an "interpretation of special education facilities accommodations."

The issue arises from the ongoing debate over what, if any, role one of the county's schools --- the Ridge Ruxton School on Charles Street --- should play in helping county school officials fix the situation of the area's crowded elementary schools.

My story in yesterday's paper took a look at some of the factors that have fueled this overcrowding situation as well as some of the possible solutions that have been tossed around.

When school officials began last fall looking at ways to ease the crowding at Towson's four neighborhood elementaries --- Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh, Hampton and Riderwood --- one of the first suggestions involved changes for the kids at Ridge Ruxton School, a standalone special-education facility where about 125 children attend from ages 3 to 21. One suggestion has been to build a 400-seat addition onto Ridge Ruxton to accommodate regular students.

That plan, however, has drawn sharp criticism, especially from some Ridge Ruxton parents, two of whom have filed federal complaints and are considering a lawsuit. They said they believe that their children, who are "medically fragile," will have their educational rights compromised if they are forced to attend school with regular students.

The school board recently postponed a vote on the Ridge Ruxton expansion plan and ordered a feasibility study to look at all its options.

The board appears to be poised to take up the "crowded schools" discussion during tomorrow night's meeting. Under the contracts to be approved is one listed for architectural/engineering services "for the construction of a new elementary school, or addition(s), in the Towson area."


Posted by Gina Davis at 2:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, Parents, SpecialEd

April 9, 2008

Does staff replacement improve a school?

Two recent studies raise doubts, but -- as I report in my story today -- the strategy has emerged as the option of choice for Maryland schools that are required to restructure under No Child Left Behind.

This report by the Center on Education Policy looked at 10 restructuring schools in Maryland. While much of the report deals with restructuring by hiring a "turnaround specialist," an option the state no longer allows because it was not effective, it also discusses the disruption on instruction when a school is "zero-based," or the entire staff is required to reapply for their jobs. This month, Education Sector released a report on a successful school reform initiative in Chattanooga. The most successful teachers were veterans who went through extensive professional development.

In reporting my story yesterday, it was interesting to compare the difference in the staff replacement plans in Baltimore and Prince George's County. Both are long-troubled districts with (relatively) new superintendents instituting a lot of changes. In Baltimore, the schools are zero-basing. This was the option selected by school improvement teams, and city school officials believe it's only fair for everyone on a staff to be on equal footing. It seems Baltimore County has the same rationale. 

But in Prince George's, the staff replacement is selective, with the only given being that teachers in restructuring schools who are not "highly qualified" and aren't close to getting there will be moved elsewhere. Superintendent John Deasy said he's worked with the state to develop an instrument to evaluate a school's capacity. In schools where only one subgroup isn't making AYP, there will be less intervention than in schools where every subgroup is falling short. In some cases, Deasy explained, the principal won't be asked to reapply; the principal will simply be replaced. This approach leaves more room for subjective evaluations, but Prince George's County officials believe it will also be less disruptive than zero-basing.

April 3, 2008

Super superintendents

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor reports something many of us have heard before --- good superintendents are hard to find; harder yet is keeping them. The current trend of fewer qualified candidates, especially minorities, to fill the vacancies has created what is called the "rock star superintendent." And apparently there is one in our own backyard:

"Successful 'rock star' superintendents, including Rudy Crew of Miami-Dade in Florida and Joe Hairston in Baltimore, show that the right fit can be helpful for improving academic performance and reducing discipline problems, experts say. Mr. Crew was named superintendent of the year in 2007 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)."

To read more, click here.

Posted by Gina Davis at 6:03 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore County, Trends

April 2, 2008

Teachers work-to-rule

Hundreds of Baltimore County teachers yesterday participated in a work-to-rule job action to demonstrate how much the system relies upon the time they put in beyond their contracted hours.

One teacher, Natalie Avallone of Patapsco High School, wrote an open letter to her fellow teachers about why she decided to work-to-rule. Here's her letter, which she has given us permission to share:

"Why I will work to rule.

What’s the point? It’s not like it will make any difference to lawmakers, right?

I’ve heard this opinion from my fellow peers too many times to count. The sad thing is that it’s true. Jim Smith isn’t going to care one way or the other if I walk in at 7:00 am, when I usually arrive, or 7:30 when I am contractually required to be here. No delegates or board of education members will be watching as I leave the building at 2:30 with a stack of papers still to grade on my desk.

But, I wouldn’t be writing this now if I thought working to rule was totally useless. In fact, I think it is essential that we commit ourselves to this symbolic gesture because it isn’t the lawmakers we are trying to educate. Sadly, the only lesson they seem to be interested in learning is how to get re-elected.

As teachers we are dedicated to the lives and education of our students. Who among us would truly jeopardize that in the name of money? We came to this profession because we are passionate about learning, not about the paycheck. We are willing to accept a sub-standard professional salary because we believe in what we do and that it makes a difference. Yet, we deserve better. It is not fair that children should have to pay the price for the fiscal woes of the education system or the government that funds it. Most of our students do not even have the ability to control what their teachers make, not having the franchise to elect officials that would better support our teachers and educational system. And maybe that is why schools, year after year, struggle financially through fundraising to support the “extras” like publishing the school paper or purchasing athletic uniforms.

So, if I can’t sway the lawmakers by working to rule, who exactly am I trying to influence, you may ask? The voters. Yes, it all comes back to democracy. And you can thank your 8th grade social studies teacher because you knew my answer already – didn’t you. When I walk in at 7:30 am on April 1st, I hope the community surrounding my school is watching because it is them that I am trying to educate. And if there are teachers walking in to every Baltimore County school at 7:30 am on April 1st it isn’t just the neighbors that will notice, but the media. The parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors of our students need to understand why we deserve a fair salary so that when they step into that election booth each November, America’s future is first and foremost in their minds.

I want the voters of Baltimore County to realize that despite that “seven hour contract day,” there are teacher’s cars parked in the lot long before 7:30 am and well after 2:30 pm, every day, and not just on week days. That even though our contract grants us a half an hour duty free lunch, most of us spend it with our students. That even though we work ten months of the year, school runs through the summer and many teachers must work in order to offset the fact that for two months we don’t get a paycheck. That even if I pull out of the lot at 3:30 pm on a typical day to pick up my daughter at daycare, I do so carrying a bag of papers I still have to grade. That even though I have nine years of experience, a Master’s degree and National Board Certification, I have chosen to remain in Baltimore County because I love my school and not my paycheck.

With the third highest turnover rate in the state, quality teachers are leaving this district for better pay and more respect. My hope is that our “students” are paying attention on April 1st, because it is the state of the Baltimore County School System that is on the line. And as a teacher in that system, I want it to be the best school system that it can possibly be.

That is why I will work to rule on April 1st and you should, too."


Anyone else care to share whether they are working-to-rule and why? Drop us a line here at InsideEd.

Posted by Gina Davis at 10:47 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore County, Teaching

April 1, 2008

Boy, 7, brings loaded guns to Randallstown Elementary School

A 7-year-old boy at Randallstown Elementary School was caught yesterday with two loaded handguns in a classroom, Baltimore County police said this morning.

The guns, which were fully loaded, were discovered after a 9mm Kahr handgun fell from the child's pocket about 10:30 a.m. The gun that fell had one round in the chamber.

A search of the boy's backpack revealed a second weapon, a 40-caliber Glock handgun.

The boy was detained and then turned over to his parents, according to The Sun's article. It is unknown whether or not the boy will face any charges.

This isn’t the first time that an elementary student has brought in a loaded gun to school. In October 2006, an 8-year-old at Grove Park Elementary in Baltimore accidentally discharged a loaded revolver in a desk in his third-grade class. Another 8-year-old had brought the gun to school. Since then, the city schools have allowed principals to install metal detectors in schools where the community wants them. 

I’m beyond shocked this most recent incident occurred. I can only assume that the boy got the weapons from home. If that is the case, what punishment/responsibility do the parents face?

In addition, what do you do with the kid? I certainly would be extremely apprehensive to allow the kid back into my classroom. Do you put him in an alternative education class? Do you simply sweep this situation under the rug? And, what about metal detectors? Are they the answer?