He was there at the revolution Innovative educator decides to move on CARROLL COUNTY SCHOOLS

August 02, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Whether you hail him or damn him for it, Donald Vetter is the man who first got his colleagues at Carroll County public schools to look into a new trend called outcomes-based education.

And now he's retiring -- packing up and leaving his co-workers in the midst of an educational revolution that has roused some vehement opposition in Carroll County.

But Mr. Vetter believes that it's time for him to move on, leaving implementation of the revolution to his successor.

A lot of teachers and administrators are sorry to see him go. As Carroll's social studies supervisor, Mr. Vetter has directed the program for all grades in all schools for the past 23 years, updating it along the way to include more of the perspective of American-Indian and African-American cultures, and to include more study of the 20th century.

"Don's going to leave a void that is very hard to fill," said Gary Dunkleberger, director of curriculum and staff development. "He has a real keen sense of pulling programs together, and he knows that support for teachers is important. He's an excellent observer in the classroom. He gives teachers good, positive feedback they can use in a helpful way."

Mr. Vetter, 57, is one of the most admired educators in the system, and his reputation extends to state and federal programs. He has worked as an evaluator on such programs and helped develop a law-education program, among other things that fill up two pages of his resume.

In 1983, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study in China.

He has a no-nonsense manner but a ready smile and sense of humor, and a taste for intellectual exchange that goes back to his teaching days in Baltimore County.

At Cockeysville Junior High School, around 1969, he had one of the most conservative groups of students of his career.

"They always took an ultraconservative point of view," he said. "I had recently read 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X,' and [one boy] had recently read the life story of John Birch [founder of the conservative John Birch Society]."

Mr. Vetter suggested a swap: He would read the life story of John Birch if the student would read the book about slain black activist Malcolm X.

"We talked about it, but I don't think our attitudes changed at all," he said.

"I guess in terms of civil rights, I'm left of center," he said. "But fiscally, as you get older, you get more conservative."

the outcomes-based concept now being developed in Carroll schools, Mr. Vetter alerted Deputy Superintendent Brian Lockard a conference on the subject in February 1990 in Phoenix. Both had been reading about it in professional journals, and Mr. Vetter thought the conference would be helpful.

They came back even more impressed. Mr. Vetter thought it sounded like what he had been trying to do for the past 20 years.

The idea behind outcomes-based education is to set a goal for what students should know and be able to do by the end of a course. Teachers then focus on meeting those goals.

When Mr. Vetter took over Carroll's social studies instruction, he went to all the teachers, some administrators and even students, asking what they wanted out of the program. Then he set long-term goals.

"I didn't know it then, but now those things are called 'program outcomes.' We were doing things with different terminology," he said.

He thinks the work to set standards, or outcomes, for what students should know and be able to do is an improvement.

"These are more specific," he said.

He said setting standards should bring new ways of assessing student performance more reflective of how they are taught.

"We do a lot of creative teaching," he said. "Then we do a test and we put kids back into rows. You might have essays, but a lot of the essay questions are based on what's taught in class. We really weren't getting the kids to stretch."

One good example of assessing students, he said, is an award-winning unit devised by Peter Litchka, a social studies teacher at North Carroll High School.

Mr. Litchka, in the freshman decision-making class, had students research an actual case of toxic pollution around the Love Canal in New York. Students worked in groups on their research and reporting, and developed recommendations.

Instead of giving a test, Mr. Litchka graded students by observing how much they participated in the groups, how they analyzed and organized their facts, and whether they based their solutions on the research.

Mr. Vetter said a unit such as that addresses at least three goals adopted by the county Board of Education: that students be able communicators, be perceptive problem-solvers and be involved citizens.

If Mr. Vetter seems to admire Mr. Litchka, the latter is full of praise for his departing boss.

"I think he's just everything a supervisor is supposed to be," Mr. Litchka said. "He's always been the leader that sent us in the right direction, but he always would give us the freedom to be creative."

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