School's In

September 01, 1994

Howard County schools have opened with a challenging year ahead. About 36,000 students are projected to attend classes in the county -- an 1,800-student increase over last year and the largest jump in enrollment since 1973.

Responding to that growth while accommodating new initiatives and tackling old problems will occupy a significant portion of the coming months for the school administration.

For starters, the system opens the door on a new high school, the technologically superior River Hill in Clarksville. The $30 million project piled up a $3.9 million cost overrun that further burdens the school system's budget. School officials hope to pay for the overrun by shifting funds from a land acquisition account and using surplus money from other construction projects.

Still, this overrun is likely to raise questions about school officials' handling of the River Hill project and the decision to outfit the school with fancy, state-of-the-art equipment. It also raises questions about the school system's ability to manage a fast-track construction undertaking of this magnitude.

The system's MASSI program is being launched at Swansfield Elementary, Wilde Lake Middle and Wilde Lake High. An acronym for Motivation, Assessment, Structure, Support and Instruction, MASSI is an initiative aimed primarily at improving the test scores of African-American students, which have consistently lagged behind whites. Many will be watching this hopeful endeavor.

School officials are continuing to make positive steps toward shifting to school-based management. That effort, which is designed to give greater flexibility to principals and teachers in the running of individual schools, had previously been extended to Atholton and Howard high schools. This year, school-based management will be used in the following additional high schools: Oakland Mills, Mount Hebron and Glenelg.

Finally, a move is afoot to abandon the test used in elementary schools to identify gifted and talented students, leaving the determination to teachers, parents and administrators. The idea appears sound, but officials will have to work doubly hard to convince some parents that the integrity of gifted and talented programs isn't being eroded.

Tomorrow: School Board endorsements.

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