Editor's note: The Baltimore Sun Newspaper in Education program and the fifth-grade teachers at Rippling Woods Elementary School in Glen Burnie devised a workshop to allow students to question a county official, news-conference style.
Superintendent Larry Lorton agreed to be questioned.
The students selected 12 classmates to act as reporters: Terry Allen, Joe Bolly, Jeff Carter, Dana Hyden, T. J. Lowe, Tim Martin, JodiMcGurk, Nikki Petagno, Talese Pratt, Mandy Sheets, Carla Rader and Eric Strauss.
The reporters spent several weeks developing questions and practicing them. On Wednesday, Lorton and the students assumed their roles:
Q: In Prince George's County, they have a dress code.Do you think we'll ever have one in Anne Arundel County, too?
A: Well, the fact of the matter is we do have a dress code. The dress code specifies that you have to dress decently. So that means you can'twear short shorts, you can't wear tank tops, you can't wear T-shirtswith nasty things written on them. So basically you have to come to school dressed decently.
Q: How do you know if a teacher is qualified to teach a certain grade?
A: There are two things we have to look at. One of the things we have to look at is down on paper. A person has to do certain kinds of things to be eligible to teach. They have to go to college for four years, at least. They have to have a bachelor's degree, and there are college courses they have to study. Forexample, your teachers have to know reading but they also have to know how to teach reading.
Once a person gets near the end of their college career they spend six months to a year practicing and learning from a qualified teacher. At then at the end of that period, if allgoes well, then they have to take a couple of tests in the state of Maryland. If they pass those test then they become eligible to apply for a job and take a job.
The second thing that has to happen is we interview. Your principal interviews. So Mr. (Norbert) Paga will interview 10 or 15 or 20 people and then he'll ask them all kinds of questions about what they know and what their philosophy is about teaching children and he'll make a personal judgment about personality andhow much a person likes of loves kids.
So one thing's on paper that anyone can read and the other part is something a principal feels that he or she wants in their school.
Q: How do you feel about teachers' salaries. Do you think they're too big or too little?A: That'san easy question. I don't think a very good teacher gets paid nearlyenough. Teaching, in my opinion, is one of the most important professions in the world. When you're in a classroom with a teacher that maybe hard on you -- not all great teachers are necessarily easy on youbut they demand and get the best out of you -- there's no way to puta price on how valuable that person is. And I someday before I leavethis business I hope we find a way to pay great teachers the way we pay physicians and very successful attorneys.
Q: Have your responsibilities caused problems for you at home?
A: That's an excellent question. I don't think in all my years anyone has ever asked that question. No it really hasn't, but I know that having a boy and a girl . . . I think it was harder on them than it was on me. Growing up thedaughter or son of a superintendent like when it snows and all the kids think the superintendent should close school and he doesn't? Well, when my son or daughter gets to school those days it's kind of tough.
My family has been very understanding. They know my job demendsa lot of my time on nights and weekends, but at the same time I think they feel pretty good about what I do because I have devoted my life to children, and I think they like that.
Q: Why are you going toconsider cutting band in elementary school?
A: I'm glad you raised that. There's no consideration to cut band. It's a terrible rumor that has gotten started. I don't know how it got started and I don't know how to stop it.
We are going to face some difficult decisions this coming year. We are going to have about the same amount of moneyto spend next year on 65,000 students across Anne Arundel County as we do this year. Everything is going up in price. We pay teachers more, the pads you are holding in your hands and paper and textbooks youuse every day are going to cost more next year than this year.
Therefore, something's going to have to go because we can't pay for everything that we had. So there are probably going to be changes eitherin the number of personnel that we can have. We may not be able to hire everyone back that we want to or we may not be able to replace everybody who leaves. Or there may be some programs changed, activitiesthat you have access to.
I don't have any idea what those things are right now, but as I told the Board of Education last month, despite the popular rumor that elementary music is going to go, it will bea desperate day before I recommend to the board that we do that.