Talbott Springs breaks the mold Officials finding ways to help suburban school facing urban problems.

April 22, 1996

SUBURBAN SCHOOLS lead relatively sheltered existences in comparison with their urban counterparts. But the problems of individual schools don't always fit into neat stereotypes.

Take Talbott Springs Elementary School in east Columbia.

Principal Orrester Shaw Jr. juxtaposes his school's woes with those many inner-city schools face. He and other Howard County school officials deserve credit for the way they are dealing with the challenges that confront Talbott Springs.

It is plagued by low test scores and high turnover. Almost a third of its students come from low-income households. One-fifth have limited proficiency in English.

Many students are from families which left behind city schools in Baltimore or Prince George's County to move to what they perceived as a better lifestyle in the suburbs. (It should also be noted that more than 20 percent tested last year did not enter the school until the fourth grade or later, so scores were partly a reflection on other education systems.)

Two months ago, Talbott Springs made the Howard Board of Education's top 10 list of schools that needed special attention. The county's 10 lowest performers were assigned extra staff and central office resource teachers who offer instructional training.

Talbott Springs has already begun to gain from the infusion of support.

Math and language arts teachers are receiving training from resource teachers. An extra teacher brought in now organizes science activities for older students and uses the school's new computer lab to hone student writing skills. Group learning and problem-solving activities are being stressed so students will be better prepared for this year's Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, on which the school scored poorly last year. Even before the extra help arrived the school was working to improve the learning environment, such as tightening its discipline policy last fall.

Scores on assessment exams won't be known until next winter. Still, at this point, the school is setting an example by attacking problems head-on. Parents, taxpayers and public officials don't have to wait for test scores to be impressed by that.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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