Schaefer Tour Pitches School Reforms At Wmc

Commissioners Applaud New Superintendent's Views

November 27, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — The governor and his top education official headlined the state's can-do tour at a stop in Carroll Sunday, advocating reforms to break from the "mediocrity" plaguing Maryland's school system and urging individual initiative to battle the recession.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick and several state agency directors sponsored a breakfast at Western Maryland College to discuss Maryland's pressing issues with business, government and education officials. The state brass have made similar visits across Maryland.

Grasmick, the newly appointed superintendent, brought the crowd of about 100 to its feet after her speech emphasizing the need for change in an educational system too accustomed to the status quo. The system, she said, produces too many dropouts, underachievers, unwed mothers and graduates ill prepared for employment or higher education.

Efforts at change spark "instant pessimism" among teachers and administrators who fear they won't meet new job requirements, will be displaced or will be held more directly accountable for student performance, she said.

"It's not an event; it's a process," said Grasmick,the former secretary of Juvenile Services and the governor's Office for Children, Youth and Families.

"We'll work until there's cautious pessimism, then optimism. We are changing. People are between pessimism and cautious pessimism. A few of us are at the point of optimism."

The governor has set 10 goals for school improvements. Chief among them are setting standards for learning, placing a higher priority on math and science and increasing the graduation rate. To achievesuch goals, educators must be held more accountable as well as students, Grasmick said.

She said a new state program that tests students' competence in math, reading, writing and citizenship, then reports results in a school-by-school breakdown, is a step in the right direction. Too many schools haven't met the state standards, she said, adding that businesses will suffer as the pool of workers with basic skills decreases.

The governor's Schools for Success proposal, which has been deferred for financial reasons, is another example of change aimed at improvements, Grasmick said. The program would establish a system of public accountability and provide grants to individual schools that have failed to meet "acceptable standards" -- provided they have a plan for improvement -- and to others that have excelled.

Grasmick urged businesses and other segments of society to contribute support and creativity to the effort, acknowledging that educators can't accomplish the task alone.

Carroll's commissioners expressedsupport for Grasmick's philosophy.

"She's right on the mark," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, adding that more effort must be made to address problems early in a child's education. "We've seen it over and over. The education system is not top-of-the-line, but that's always pushed under the table.

"Everybody says Carroll County schoolsare doing great. Are we, or could we be doing better? How many are doing fine, and how many do we have problems with?"

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he supports Grasmick's "positive" message, adding that he believes in making the system work rather than changing it. He said Carroll's schools have performed well, based on spending-per-pupil ratios.

Schaefer, who recently ordered acceleration of some state construction projects to boost a sagging economy, said he is "optimistic for the first time" after a year of dismal economicforecasts.

"I know we can do something," he said. "First, by thinking we can; then, if we all work together under the umbrella of putting Maryland back to work.

"Everybody is waiting for somebody else" to spark the economy, he said, and people are "scared to death" to spend.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he doesn't share the governor's optimism because revenue estimates and the current economic times "are the type that give birth to pessimism," he said. "I've seen nothing to say the recession's over."

The state is expected to address an estimated $150 million shortfall in December.

Schaefer, whopushed unsuccessfully for tax reform and increased taxes during the 1991 legislative session, said he will not make recommendations on taxes in 1992 "until it's time to make a move."

He said many of the state's smaller agencies couldn't absorb more major cuts and continueto function.

The larger agencies -- education, transportation, corrections -- will be next on the hit list because "that's where a lotof money is," he warned.

Gouge said she hopes the governor's visit signals an improved working relationship with Carroll officials andresidents.

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