Notes from night school Parents: An outline of what 300 adults learned about their children's education the other evening.

The Education Beat

September 24, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ROUGH NOTES from Back-to-School Night at Pot Spring Elementary School, deep in the heart of Timonium:

Find parking space a block from school. Bake sale in lobby, enough sweets to fatten an army.

Debbie Ross, new PTA president, calls maybe 300 parents to order at 7: 06. A little nervous, but warms to the task. Tells about how she got involved in PTA activities, urges other parents to be active.

No additions or corrections to Secretary Terri Murphy's minutes from last spring. No questioning of Treasurer Debbie Hood's 1997-1998 budget. Moved, seconded and approved by acclamation: $21,900 income, including $9,000 (!) from the sale of gift wrap; $21,900 in expenses, including $3,850 for "classrooms" and $2,500 under "cultural."

Note to self: "PTA no longer small-time. Big business."

Principal Paul E. Murrell. Thirty-sixth year in Baltimore County education, starting his third at Pot Spring. Seen more opening days than Cal Ripken. Murrell, 62, brought in as a peacemaker after a 1994 parent revolt over reading instruction.

Latecomers stand at back as Murrell introduces teachers and Joan Belt, assistant principal. Appreciative applause for all. Teachers, dressed up a little more than usual, leave to set up their classrooms.

Murrell's good. Funny and serious at the same time. Says he and Belt "think almost the same, but I make more than she does."

Changes? Yes and no, principal says. "The tried and true from many years ago are just as important today."

Says Pot Spring won't tolerate invented spelling. "Close enough isn't good enough here." Also rejects anyone who protests kids coming home with red correction marks on their papers. "If we don't tell them what they're doing wrong, we're not doing our job. Your bosses tell you what you're doing wrong. My boss is always telling me what I'm doing wrong." Laughter.

Murrell notes that Pot Spring has a constituency of maybe 1,500 -- 1,100 parents and relatives, plus employees, community leaders, politicians, neighbors. "Everyone, especially you parents, are entitled to question what we do."

Murrell tells parents how to call him at home with complaints or concerns, "and when you do, don't apologize." Says he got 20 calls last year and didn't resent a one.

Note to self: How many principals invite parents to call them at home?

Assistant Principal Belt, using overhead projector, shows parents results of kindergarten and first-grade reading tests last year. Scores excellent.

Belt: "We know this is just one test, and we know there's work to do. But we're doing something right. You're doing something right, you parents. Our children learned a lot last year." Heads nod in agreement.

Parents disperse to meet teachers. Tonight isn't for individual conferences; rather, to get a general idea what's in store. Room 24: Mary Salvatierra, 29, greets parents with smiles, invites them to sit at their first-graders' desks.

Salvatierra's enthusiasm shows. Goes over first-grade handbook. Parents' posteriors not suited for tiny chairs. Neither is Education Beat's. Familiar storybooks to come: "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" and "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." Unfamiliar: "There's an Alligator Under My Bed" and "Watch Out for Chicken Feet in Your Soup."

Note to self: First-graders reading real literature. We didn't in 1947.

$325 worth of school data is available on the Web

If you choked on the $325 price for the three-volume "State of Baltimore's Schools," released during the summer by Advocates for Children and Youth, take heart. It's now on the World Wide Web ( Anyone with access to the Internet can tap into this mammoth collection of city school data.

Scrolling through Volume II the other day, we came across a school motto that wins our award for originality and humor. The motto for Carver Vocational-Technical High School: "Carverites Are Truly a Cut Above."

Centennial Spanish teacher has students' numbers

This is the ultimate in homework.

Evelyn da Costa, a Spanish teacher at Centennial High School in Howard County, calls her students at home at a prearranged evening time and requires each to converse with her for at least three minutes -- in Spanish.

Students in da Costa's advanced Spanish classes choose their topics. "It's usually vacations or what's happening in their families," says da Costa, who came up with the idea as a "good way to touch base and have genuine conversations, one-on-one."

Da Costa grades her students on their performances, but she often asks them to suggest a grade. "They tend to be harder on themselves than I am," she says.

The teacher concedes that a scrutinized conversation in a foreign language "can be nerve-racking, but I've never had a student refuse to do it."

Some educational toys that pass the test

The National Association for Gifted Children is out with its educational toy list for 1997. Here are some of the organization's recommended toys that it says are "fun, educational and stand the test of time": Alien Slime Lab (Educational Insights, $19.95). As aspiring scientists investigate the martian "remains" included in this kit, they learn about basic scientific properties.

Blurt (Patch Products Inc., $25). This game challenges players (individually or in teams) to be the first to blurt out the answer.

Explore Your Awesome Senses (Nova/Curiosity Kits, $20). Kids explore olfactory sensations as well as their four other senses.

Magnetic Poetry for Kids (Magnetic Poetry, $19.95). More than 350 magnets, each printed with a word or word fragment, for kids who want to create poetry on the refrigerator.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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