Relatively sizable numbersof students come from low-income families and homes in which English is not the native language.
And as the school's test scores lagged behind the county averages, it suffered some middle-class flight -- with some neighborhood families choosing to send their children to other -- county schools that have open classroom seats. Nearby Stevens Forest Elementary School, also in Oakland Mills village, has received many of these transfers.
Several years ago, the school board tried to counter that trend by redistricting students in the the Hopewell neighborhood -- a wealthier, more stable area of Columbia -- to Talbott Springs. The pupils are bused through two other elementary school districts to get to Talbott Springs.
But some parents in the Owen Brown village neighborhood also have decided to enroll their children elsewhere. As a result, Talbott Springs remains one of the least crowded elementaries in the county, with its enrollment about 70 pupils below its capacity.
Mr. Shaw acknowledges the school's problems and says he aims to change the community's perception of Talbott Springs -- as he did in his previous principal positions at two of Baltimore's most troubled schools.
While at East Baltimore's Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School, the city's largest elementary, Mr. Shaw initiated several highly regarded academic programs and oversaw dramatic improvements in student performance.
Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey then tapped Mr. Shaw to become principal of Frederick Douglass High School, which the state had targeted for takeover because of its poor attendance, violence and low student achievement. Within a year, he was credited with turning the school around and instilling discipline.
Talbott Springs' problems aren't nearly as severe as at Henderson or Douglass. But Mr. Shaw says he and the staff have a lot of work to do to bring student performance up to the level of the rest of the county.
Many parents satisfied
Meanwhile, many parents are convinced the school is doing well -- and always has.
"I've always been very satisfied with the school," said Irene Sims, who has a son in fourth grade at Talbott Springs. "Too many people never give the school a chance. But if you look beyond the test scores, there's a lot of good teaching and a lot of wonderful students there."
But parents and teachers agree that the school needs to raise its test scores, if only to improve the community's perception of the school. To do that, Mr. Shaw and Talbott Springs' staff and parents are designing a plan to improve student performance and tailor instruction to pupils' needs.
In the classrooms, teachers also are trying to better prepare their students for the MSPAP tests by stressing more group learning and problem-solving activities.
A discipline policy put in place this fall has cracked down on student behavior -- particularly in ending students' use of obscenities in the hallways, parents say.
And the school has taken advantage of its designation by the school board as a target school, calling on math and language arts resource teachers to provide extra training for teachers.
The school got an extra teacher earlier this year, and Mr. Shaw chose to use the position for science and technology instruction. The teacher, Pat Browne, organizes science activities for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders and emphasizes writing instruction for all pupils in the school's new computer laboratory -- a key MSPAP emphasis.
Whether the changes pay off won't be known until next winter, when the results of this spring's state exams will come back.
But if the improvement is as strong as Mr. Shaw and others anticipate, Talbott Springs may become a role model for other schools in the county that experience relatively high student turnover and poverty.
"I believe we can design a plan here to help other schools deal with similar problems," Mr. Shaw said. "I think my experiences in the city can be applied here, and we'll have something in place that others can adapt for their own schools."
Pub Date: 4/07/96