State, local aid eyed for failing school Officials hope to prevent takeover of Van Bokkelen

'Point of mobilization'

Help also sought for elementary's troubled community

January 26, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

County schools officials yesterday said they will ask the state and local governments to help pay for overhauling Van Bokkelen Elementary School and helping its troubled neighborhood.

Van Bokkelen Elementary is the state's first suburban school threatened with takeover.

The official word came yesterday, shortly after a meeting between Maryland Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and top county education officials.

Anne Arundel County Superintendent Carol S. Parham said she wanted the threat of state takeover to be a "point of mobilization."

"I made it very clear that we would be looking for financial assistance from the state," Dr. Parham said, noting that Gov. Parris N. Glendening has allocated $1.6 million to help five failing Baltimore schools threatened with state takeover last year.

Dr. Parham and the school board also will seek money and other help from county officials and agencies.

County Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans said earlier this week that the state's action on Van Bokkelen might make this year an opportune time to reconsider putting a multiservice center on school grounds.

The proposal withered in 1994.

Councilman Bert Rice said he would be open to suggestions.

The first initiatives probably will be raised at Tuesday night's school board workshop on the coming fiscal year's budget.

The board must present a proposal for improving Van Bokkelen to Dr. Grasmick by March 15, but it must give its budget proposal to County Executive John G. Gary by March 1, said board President Joseph H. Foster.

"I don't think the school system alone has failed these students. I believe this is a much larger issue dealing with the total community," Mr. Foster said. "I believe that these students are just as capable as any other students in the county. It is just that they have not had the environment that would allow them to perform as well as other students."

School officials said they recognized that Van Bokkelen, which draws its pupils from a low-income, crime-ridden area near Fort Meade, was failing before state exams graphically showed the problem.

Test scores from 1993 were abysmal, with fewer than 20 percent and as few as 5 percent of pupils meeting various standards.

Most rose in 1994, but scores plummeted last year, many to levels below the 1993 base.

Dr. Parham and Nancy Mann, director of instruction, said there were extenuating factors for Van Bokkelen's particularly distressing fifth-grade test scores.

For example, half the fifth-graders tested entered the school after third grade, 29 percent of those taking the test were special education students, and 14 percent were absent for part of the exam.

Dr. Parham said yesterday that county officials tried to show Dr. Grasmick that they have been putting resources into Van Bokkelen but have been working against long-standing problems the community.

There is little parental involvement, the student turnover rate was about one-third in the past school year, and the community is impoverished and isolated from needed services. A county health center is a few miles away in Odenton, but it is accessible only by car. Many people in Pioneer City, Warfield and Still Meadows have no cars.

"These problems are not new," said Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services.

He said $750,000 in grants for Van Bokkelen have helped.

"What I suspect we have probably done there is put in a lot of

resources in there that make them feel safe" and boost self-esteem, he said.

"We have got to increase our efforts at the instructional level It is going to be difficult to take that next step."

But Mr. Foster, the school board president, wondered what headway many of the programs are making, since the school system has added teachers, computers, health services, even adult literacy programs.

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