Changes planned for middle schools Separate philosophy will be eliminated

December 13, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County's middle school philosophy will be eliminated, one of several steps to be taken immediately in response to the community evaluation of Howard middle schools, county educators told the school board last night.

Other immediate changes in the middle schools will include encouraging some academic competition and reducing the amount of time teachers spend helping students perform community service, the educators said. But a thorough response to the evaluation probably won't be completed until May.

Also last night, the school board toughened the system's drug and alcohol policy by stiffening the penalty for a second possession violation. It also expanded the definition of a violation to include "constructive possession," in which a student is in the presence of drugs or alcohol, has access to them and fails to leave the area.

In the discussion on middle schools, educators said they will make several changes immediately and will have a committee study the bulk of the recommendations contained in two reports, one by a 16-member citizens committee and the other by two university consultants. The recommendations by the committee, which called for sweeping changes in middle schools to improve academic achievement, frequently differed from those of the consultants.

One of the most basic changes urged by the committee was a clarification of the middle school philosophy, which they said left many parents, teachers and administrators with the impression that self-esteem was emphasized over academics. They said the philosophy contradicted the school system's broader goals, known as "Beyond the Year 2000."

Last night, Alice Haskins, the county's instructional coordinator for kindergarten through 12th grade and a specialist in middle schools, agreed that there was no need for a separate middle school philosophy.

"We will spend as much time as necessary dispelling any myths that anyone has about what the goals of middle schools should be," Haskins said.

Other changes that Haskins said will be made immediately in middle schools include making students aware that academic competition and recognition of academic achievements are allowed and reducing the amount of time that teachers spend helping students complete their state-required community service requirement.

Haskins said the school system is conducting several studies that coincide with recommendations of the middle school evaluation committee, including an examination of the Black Student Achievement Program and a review of student discipline.

A committee of school officials, administrators and teachers from throughout the system has been created to study the majority of the recommendations from the evaluations, Haskins said. The committee is to bring a final report to the board in May.

The school system budget for next year will contain $80,000 to help implement some of the recommendations during the 1997-1998 school year, said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

Hickey said he hoped that the announcement of the immediate actions and the study process will show the community evaluators that the system is taking their recommendations seriously. Several of them complained last month that they felt the school system was not reacting quickly enough to their reports.

In reviewing the drug and alcohol policy, the board decided that there should be harsher punishment for a student caught a second time in possession of drugs or alcohol. Previously, the punishment for a second violation was the same as for the first.

Under the policy that will take effect next month, with the start of the second semester, a student caught for the second time will be suspended from extracurricular activities for the remainder of that semester and the following semester.

The board also decided to include constructive possession in its definition of a violation of the drug and alcohol policy. Officials said the change formalizes the way the policy has been enforced.

Pub Date: 12/13/96

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