Rescue effort for troubled school vowed Elementary on list for possible state takeover

Higher test scores sought

Board plans cut in number of students, additional teachers

January 25, 1996|By Tanya Jones and Dennis O'Brien | Tanya Jones and Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Kris Antonelli contributed to this article.

Anne Arundel County school officials promised yesterday to flood Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn with resources, staff and other assistance to get it off the state's potential takeover list.

Joseph Foster, the school board president, pledged a "SWAT team-like" approach to "make sure students have what they need."

The school board will increase the number of teachers and reduce the number of students at the school, which is 20 percent over capacity, in an effort to raise test scores, he said.

Board member Thomas E. Florestano proposed establishing a community center at the school where parents could get counseling and medical treatment when they drop off their children.

Similar efforts failed in the past when school budgets were cut.

Van Bokkelen Principal Charles Owens said he would welcome additional money and other help.

"If [state intervention] means that they are going to provide greater resources, greater assistance for the school, then certainly I would be all for it," he said.

The school was among 37 listed by Dr. Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent, for possible inclusion in the state's school reform program because of poor and declining test scores and attendance. It is the only Anne Arundel school on the list and one of two not in Baltimore. The other is in Somerset County.

Scores poor

Van Bokkelen students have scored poorly on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) tests since they first were given in 1992.

Those scores, combined with high absenteeism, have given the school the poorest ranking among the county's 76 elementary schools. But inclusion on the state list surprises even those most familiar with the school on Reece Road.

"I did not know the school's performance rate was at such a state that it should be taken over," said Edith Perry, a community activist in Orchards at Severn, where many Van Bokkelen students live. "I know that the kids need a lot of help, because I am running a tutoring program out of my house."

More than other schools in Anne Arundel County, Van Bokkelen must deal with students who come from low-income households and who may attend the school for only a few months at a time, Mr. Owens said.

Rumor control

Dr. Carol S. Parham, the county schools superintendent, held a closed-door meeting with teachers after school yesterday to explain the state Department of Education's listing process and to answer questions.

"I just wanted to be sure that there was some rumor control," Dr. Parham said.

She said she is to meet today with Dr. Grasmick "to review the profile of our school" and to discuss issues.

Few teachers would comment as they left Van Bokkelen yesterday.

"From what's going on, it seems as if its going to benefit the children," Patricia Harry, a school nurse at Van Bokkelen, said after the session with Dr. Parham.

A second-grade teacher who declined to give her name said the designation was a slap in the face.

"The stigma of failure hurts when you have always done nothing but positive things," said the 22-year teacher, who showed off her classroom decorated with projects on civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

No final decision

Dr. Parham met with about a dozen parents at a nearby community center shortly after talking with the teachers and said the state was not taking over Van Bokkelen. "Let's dispel that myth right away," she said.

State officials told her Friday that Van Bokkelen probably would be on the reform list, but Dr. Parham said the decision is not final.

"This can be a positive thing for the school and the community," she told the parents at the Pioneer City Community Center. "It allows us to get additional resources and to look into all kinds of changes."

Janet Fadely, a resident of Orchards at Severn who has three children in the school, said she thought the low test scores were a result of a lack of support programs that would help children learn.

"Everyone needs to realize that these kids come from neighborhoods where drugs, violence and the sounds of gunfire are common," she said. "The principal has said he understands that and that they are doing the best they can. But their best is not good enough."

School praised

Many parents defended the school and teachers, praising them for directing needy parents to agencies for social services.

"I am treated with excellent care," said Donna Hines, whose son is in first grade. "I'm a single parent. If it wasn't for the school, I don't think I could make it."

A tale of two schools

Percent of students scoring satisfactory on MSPAP

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ....Van Bokkelen .. .. .. .. ..Shipley's Choice*

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .1994. ..1995 .. .. .. .. ..1994 .. .. .1995

Third grade

Reading .. .. .. .. .. ..14.3 .. .7.8 .. ... .. .. .50.5 .. .. .75.0

Writing .. .. .. .. ... .26.9 .. 17.3 .. .. .. .. ..56.3 .. .. .79.2

Mathematics .. .. .. .. ..9.6 ...12.0 .. .. .. .. ..68.8 .. .. .84.4

Fifth grade

Reading .. .. .. .. .. ..12.1 .. .3.6 .. .. .. .. ..56.7 .. .. .57.8

Writing .. .. .. .. .. ...N/A .. .4.2 .. .. .. .. ...N/A .. .. .82.1

Mathematics .. .. .. .. .23.5 .. .8.3 .. .. .. .. ..84.6 .. .. .90.5

N/A = not available

Information provided by state school officials

*A nearby school in a higher-income neighborhood

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