After 24 years, school board member retains enthusiasm for job


August 30, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

HAGERSTOWN -- B. Marie Byers' interest in education is as long and as varied as her tenure as a school board member.

Mrs. Byers, 59, was appointed to the Washington County Board of Education in 1970. The former teacher has since been elected to the five-member board five times and is seeking a sixth (and she says her last) elected term.

During her 24 years on the school board, Mrs. Byers has achieved a number of firsts, including serving as that board's first woman president. It's a post she has held eight times.

But her commitment to education extends beyond Washington County's borders. She is active with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and has served with various state and national education organizations.

Mrs. Byers, the mother of three grown children and a part-time interior design consultant, most recently served on the National Education Commission on Time and Learning.

Q: Being a school board member is often a thankless and sometimes distressing job. To what do you owe your longevity and what has kept you interested for more than two decades?

A: I think my commitment of time has been evident. I have been accessible and accountable and have been behind good things that have happened here. I think my educational philosophy is similar to the citizens of Washington County -- all children should have the opportunity to learn to the best of their abilities.

I think what has kept me interested is a desire to continually improve education and services for our children. I'm a very strong supporter of reading as a main education tool. I continue to look at ways of improving that skill in our children. Reading is thinking.

Q: The National Education Commission on Time and Learning recommended in a report released last spring that students spend more time on core academics, such as English, math and science. Should the school day be lengthened or rearranged to accommodate more learning?

A: There are many interruptions in the school day that don't benefit instruction. I think we can use the time we have in school to take better advantage of learning. In my own county this fall, two high schools will have restructured days -- from seven periods to four periods. Students will have 90-minute periods with less interruption of their subjects and less travel time between classes.

I think that's an improvement.

Q: The public doesn't seem swayed that teen-agers in Germany, France and Japan average more hours a year on core subjects than their American counterparts. How do you persuade parents that changes are needed?

A: I think that if parents are thoughtful, they would agree that we need more emphasis on academics. Caring parents want the best for their children. And they also realize that the world is changing rapidly. We want our children to be successful. To keep a competitive edge in this global economy, we have to have strong academics.

One of the problems we face is that instruction time across the U.S. varies from 4.5 hours to 6.5 hours a day. There's national standards and goals we are trying to address. We need greater conformity throughout the 50 states.

One way to correct these inequities is through technology. That is a commonality that can be a real help in strengthening standards.

PTC Q: The commission also called for an expansion of the school calendar and a lengthening of the school day. How do you sell any kind of restructured calendar to leery parents and teachers?

A: I think what you really need to do is show parents and teachers that there is a better way of doing things. You have to let parents and communities get involved with the planning. Once you pilot something like that and they see the benefits, they'll support it.

Q: Some contend lengthening the school day and the school year is merely a convenience for working families and has nothing to do with academics. Do you agree?

A: I think there is some truth to that. I don't consider that a negative. I think that it's a fact of life in the 1990s. Many families have both parents working. There are many single parents, and that person is usually working and has responsibility for children.

Lengthening school days or having schools open longer is really a better use of community property.

Q: Maryland has proposed overhauling teacher education requirements -- abolishing an undergraduate major in education in favor of a five-year program in liberal arts and on-the-job training. What do you think about that proposal?

A: I think that they're looking for a simplistic paintbrush.

I believe that higher education needs to look at higher standards. As a former teacher and education major, I had excellent education courses. If those courses have been watered down in some universities, that's not the fault of students taking the courses.

I see education as truly a profession. If teachers are required to take five-year programs and training, then their salaries after graduation should be commensurate with that education and experience.

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