Ailing school puts Parham in hot seat Superintendent must devise overhaul plan within seven weeks

State threatens takeover

Elementary scores in the single digits on academic exams

January 28, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel and Tanya Jones | Andrea F. Siegel and Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

All eyes are on Carol S. Parham.

State and local officials are promising to help the Van Bokkelen Elementary School community. But first, the Anne Arundel County schools superintendent must come up with a plan to satisfy state officials who targeted the failing school for possible takeover.

"We need a little bit of time to formulate ideas here," said school board President Joseph H. Foster, who wants to review a state Department of Education evaluation of the school's problems before making commitments -- but state educators will not be at theschool until mid-February.

"I think I need to give [Dr. Parham] a little breathing room," County Executive John G. Gary said yesterday.

He promised to include money in his forthcoming budget to cover new instructional programs at the Severn school. County Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans offered her support.

State Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick promised to lobby for money for all schools targeted for takeover, as she has done in the past.

And members of the county's legislative delegation promised support, though not necessarily financial.

All they need is a plan to support, one that addresses the complex issues of single-digit academic test scores from children who live in an impoverished, crime-ridden, transient, poorly educated community where parental involvement in school is rare.

"It is premature for me to say what specific remedies we need at this point," Dr. Parham said after meeting Friday with the county's legislative delegation.

She has seven weeks to come up with a plan. Usually, the school system and county government take a year just to plan major changes.

She must have her documents to Dr. Grasmick by March 15. But the school board must have its budget proposal to Mr. Gary by March 1.

The county budget must be adopted by the end of May.

The only budget workshop the school board has scheduled is Tuesday night. It will be based on Dr. Parham's existing proposal. With no new proposals for Van Bokkelen or costs, board members have nothing to consider.

If the state Department of Education accepts the March 15 overhaul plan, Anne Arundel must submit a detailed transition plan by May 15. A long-term reform plan will be due Feb. 1, 1997.

Because Van Bokkelen's problems go beyond the school, Dr. Parham said she will seek help from county agencies and community groups.

Ideas are starting to surface.

Mr. Foster suggests a longer school day and year-round school.

Lewis A. Bracy, a community activist and former Pioneer City resident, has a five-point plan for Van Bokkelen and other schools where minority students are failing.

NTC Mr. Gary promised to include money for recreation, literacy, health and other programs in his budget, but ruled out building a community center on school grounds. That idea was proposed a few years ago to bring needed services to the isolated neighborhood.

"It's too expensive," Mr. Gary said. "I don't think we can build a freestanding building to address the issue. We have to use the school instead" on weekends and after classes.

For example, immunization and flu shot clinics could be brought to the school and it may be possible to work with nearby Kimbrough Army Community Hospital at Fort Meade, he said.

Last year, the school system contributed more than $750,000 in instructional and health grants for Van Bokkelen pupils and parents. The money paid for teachers, tutors and mentors. Still, test scores dropped.

Republican Del. Phillip D. Bissett of Annapolis, head of the county's delegation, is not convinced that money is the answer to the school's problems.

"There have been millions of dollars pumped into that school already," he said.

Regardless of whether money is the key, officials agree that any improvement plan must target parents.

Warfield resident Tracey Patrick, who has a daughter in fourth grade and another in kindergarten at Van Bokkelen, said teachers need to ask for help more often and recognize students' accomplishments.

"I am very active in making sure my kids do their homework," Mrs. Patrick said. "But I think it doesn't help when the only time you hear from the teacher is when your kid does something wrong. Where was the little note from the teacher saying, 'Your daughter is really improving. Keep it up.'?"

Parents also have a role to play, but many do not care enough about their children to become involved, Mrs. Patrick said.

Tangy Parker, whose 7-year-old son is in first grade at Van Bokkelen, said she is the only parent from her son's class who volunteered to chaperon a field trip to the Inner Harbor.

"If the parents don't get involved, there is nothing that the school can do," she said.

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