Principal is removed at failing Severn school Change is made at Van Bokkelen after state takeover threat

February 08, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel and TaNoah V. Sterling | Andrea F. Siegel and TaNoah V. Sterling,SUN STAFF

Charles Owens, the principal of failing Van Bokkelen Elementary School, was removed yesterday from his job by the school board.

The board's decision came nearly two weeks after the state Department of Education put the Severn school on a potential takeover list because of poor student performance.

Mr. Owens will be replaced Monday by Rose Tasker, the principal at Woodside Elementary School in Glen Burnie, who has done extensive work with impoverished children and programs that target them.

Mr. Owens will stay for a time to help with the change of leadership but has no new assignment.

The board's decision took Mr. Owens by surprise.

"I think I have a lot to offer this school," said Mr. Owens, who has been principal for five years. "If given a chance, I would remain because I believe in the things we're doing. When you invest as much time and effort in the students, you'd like to be able to see that process all the way through.

Mr. Owens has been credited with improving the safety, resources and atmosphere at Van Bokkelen, which has the school system's poorest students -- economically and academically. The children live across Reece Road in three low-income, crime-ridden developments.

The job of explaining the reassignment fell to Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction, after the board deflected questions to Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who referred questions to Mr. Lawson.

Mr. Lawson chose his words carefully in saying the removal of Mr. Owens should not reflect poorly on the principal.

"I am convinced he has done a good job. I think Mr. Owens is fully capable of being a great principal," Mr. Lawson said. But a fresh perspective, one by a person who did not have "any personal investment in this" was in order, he said. "I'm not sure [Mr. Owens] can be as objective as he needs to be," Mr. Lawson said.

That task will fall to Mrs. Tasker, who has been principal of Woodside since 1993. She was heavily involved in what was then called Chapter I, a federal education assistance program now known as Title I. Van Bokkelen gets more Title I services than any school in the county.

She was an elementary school teacher for about a decade, before becoming a math resource teacher, a Chapter I teacher, specialist and administrator, then assistant principal at Linthicum, Marley and Freetown elementary schools.

"Rose is going to have the benefit of going in and concentrating on the current issues. That is one of life's ironies," Mr. Lawson said.

Reaction to Mr. Owens' removal was mixed.

"That's not fair," said Sharlene Thomas, who has two children at the school. "He hasn't done anything wrong. You need people like him in the school system."

Another parent was concerned that a new principal would not be sensitive to the community.

"So who's going to replace him, someone who doesn't know how to deal with blacks and foreigners?" Anita Young, mother of three students, asked. "Mr. Owens is a good principal. Ever since my kids have been over here, they've been making progress."

But other parents felt that Mr. Owens was partly to blame for low parental involvement.

"I think that what happened with Mr. Owens is that he exhausted himself trying to get parental participation" in the early part of his tenure, said Melanie Hamilton, who has two children in the school. She said Mr. Owens made little effort latterly to involve parents.

"There's only three active people on the PTO," Ms. Hamilton said. "Hopefully that will change, that is going to play a very important part in getting things going."

Dr. Parham will lead a community meeting at 7 p.m. today at the school to discuss the reassignment and other issues.

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