School plan wins praise from state as model Md. superintendent calls Van Bokkelen proposal 'absolutely outstanding'

March 20, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Mary Maushard contributed to this article.

The state Board of Education unanimously approved yesterday Anne Arundel County's plan to improve Van Bokkelen Elementary School, hailing it as a model beginning for rescuing failing schools elsewhere.

State School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick called the proposal "an absolutely outstanding plan" that looks "at changes that are systemic as well as very specific."

The plan is only the first of several steps for the Severn school.

County school officials must submit a transition proposal by May 15 that will cover most of the coming school year, followed by a plan due Feb. 3, 1997, for a full overhaul.

In January, Van Bokkelen became the first suburban school threatened with state takeover after student scores on standardized tests dropped into single digits.

Within days, Principal Charles Owens was replaced by Rose Tasker.

Meetings with parents, the community, teachers and county officials followed.

A social worker has been brought in, and Superintendent Carol S. Parham is seeking nearly $150,000 to add an administrator to handle discipline issues, hire a community liaison, train teachers and buy books for every grade level.

Mrs. Tasker's immediate goal is to bring attendance to at least 94 percent, considered satisfactory by the state, and improve by half the number of students at the satisfactory level for academics.

"I am personally and professionally committed to seeing that every student at Van Bokkelen is a success," Dr. Parham said.

Being on the state's list, the superintendent said, "is a challenge, not a condemnation, a positive chance for growth, not a negative judgment."

However, an evaluation of Van Bokkelen by state education officials highlighted many problems.

While it praised the dedication of Van Bokkelen's faculty, it portrayed a frustrated staff, low parent involvement, high discipline problems, decade-old textbooks and equipment in disrepair.

The staff told evaluators they felt Van Bokkelen was "forgotten" by the county. There is no library, no nearby health center, little in the way of recreation or other county services, poor mass transit and one small food store.

The plan approved by state officials yesterday failed to impress many parents in the predominantly poor Van Bokkelen community.

"It really didn't outline anything," said Melanie Hamilton, who has a third-grader at the school. "It's late in coming. This situation never should have occurred."

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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