School reform to roll on after Shilling School officials say reform structure is in place. Successor will fill it out.

May 23, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

State officials remain committed to the ambitious program of school reforms begun by departing state Superintendent Joseph L. Shilling, who has resigned effective June 30.

"Dr. Shilling laid everything in place," said Bonnie S. Copeland, deputy superintendent, who is in charge of day-to-day operations of the state education department. "We have the architect's designs, and we're going to move ahead with them."

In particular, Copeland cited the 10 goals that form the core of the state's "Schools For Success" plan, and the system of new tests and school performance requirements known as the Maryland State Performance Program.

Copeland, who is expected to take over as acting superintendent when Shilling leaves, noted that the state already is giving a new battery of tests to third-, fifth- and eighth-graders that are intended to measure how well students use the material they learn in the classroom.

Those tests will be expanded to the 11th grade next year, and the state board is pushing forward to develop those tests, she said.

Copeland also cited support by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the legislature for other initiatives, including mandatory kindergarten, which was enacted this year.

And this fall, the state will release its second annual "report card" documenting the performance of schools and school systems throughout the state, part of a push to hold schools accountable.

"As far as the staff is concerned, we plan to move ahead with the same schedule we proposed," said Copeland. "There will be no disruption."

Copeland's comments were echoed by other top education officials still reeling from Shilling's surprise announcement that he will take over July 1 as school superintendent in Queen Anne's County.

The potential loss of momentum is "a legitimate concern," admitted Judith Sachwald, executive assistant to the governor on education issues. But she said "the governor and the state Board of Education are deeply committed to Schools for Success."

"We have a schedule that we're operating under," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the state board. "As far as I know, everybody's enthusiastic."

Embry said he was disappointed with Shilling's announcement, saying "he's been an excellent superintendent, and we're in the midst of a major reformation" of Maryland schools.

But Embry also said that, to a great extent, Shilling was carrying out initiatives first suggested by the 1989 Governor's Commission on School Performance and adopted by the state board with the governor's support.

That panel's recommendations led directly to creation of new tests, the annual "report card" on school system performance and the possibility of sanctions against school systems that fail to improve.

The state board also has endorsed a number of far-ranging Shilling initiatives, including mandatory kindergarten, mandatory school attendance to age 18 and the 200-day school year.

A somewhat different view was voiced by Jane R. Stern, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association.

"I'm not sure that they have any momentum," said Stern, whose group criticized the state for rushing ahead with the new testing program.

Though she praised Shilling personally, Stern said he was essentially carrying out the state board's agenda and said the board "directed him to do some unfortunate things."

"I don't see any real difference in direction because it's the same state Board of Education," she said.

Embry, meanwhile, said the state board will move quickly but carefully in selecting a successor to Shilling.

He said it is "unlikely" that the job would be filled before Shilling's departure, and that board members favor Copeland as an interim school chief while they search for a successor.

At a ceremony yesterday honoring teachers from all over the state, Shilling expanded on his reasons for resigning the state's top education post.

"It was very difficult," he said. "The governor has been so supportive of everything we've tried to do."

But after setting up the Schools For Success program in theory, "I want to go do it in a local school," Shilling said.

Shilling admitted that there is a personal angle to his move, noting that he lives in Queen Anne's and will be closer to home than in the stressful state job in Baltimore.

But he rebuffed the suggestion that there is anything unusual about the move.

"It's really not that unusual for me because I don't run down the same set of tracks other people run down," said Shilling.

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