School daze

September 01, 1992

Students may not share our optimism in all cases, but there is much to be upbeat about as the new school year begins.

Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey is shaking the status quo with both hands as he invites a private company to see if it can run nine city schools more efficiently than the public bureaucracy. The effort should help convince state legislators that the city is serious about trying to rebuild its decayed education system.

Likewise in Baltimore County, a new superintendent, Stuart D. Berger, was lured from Kansas, in part because of his commitment to narrow the gap between slow learners and fast ones and to employ more computers in the classroom. His tenure begins with great expectation, and some anxiety, because he represents a vivid contrast to Robert Y. Dubel, who led the school system with a firm hand for 16 years before retiring this summer.

Anne Arundel County also greets a new superintendent, C. Berry Carter II, who has actually served as acting superintendent three times during his long career in the county. After eight years of superintendents imported from smaller systems who didn't quite mesh in the large, diverse county, Mr. Carter is welcomed as a proven asset. The Board of Education also sent a strong message this summer by raising the grade requirement for student-athletes. The board said, in effect, to young people: If you fail a course, you've no time for games.

Howard County, always one of the highest achieving school systems in Maryland, is trying to refine students' values, particularly in response to several troubling racial incidents last year. Teachers in all disciplines have been trained to weave an appreciation for diversity, self-discipline and responsible citizenship into their lessons.

Carroll County's educators are interested in developing higher-level thinking skills, and have introduced curriculum changes to encourage elementary school children to become more involved in the learning process.

In Harford County, a new elementary school in Abingdon precedes a spate of new construction for next year to accommodate an enrollment boom.

For all the innovations in education, we caution that the school year could turn ugly if it devolves into a political war over budget cuts between teachers and school boards, superintendents and local government executives. The governor recently announced a $500 million state deficit. Even if that estimate is high, jurisdictions undoubtedly must brace for cuts. Teachers shouldn't confuse a dearth of resources for a bankruptcy of commitment. And superintendents must try to soften the blow to their people without striking an overly combative posture against the politicians.

Some bold ideas are being tried to move Maryland's schools forward: Injecting politics into the classroom this year should not be one of them.

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