Students request meeting at the top They seek chance to discuss schools with commissioners

January 06, 1998|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Student leaders in Carroll have decided that when it comes to one of their chief concerns -- school crowding -- they need to go to where the buck stops.

Around here, that means the three County Commissioners.

Carroll County Student Government Association leaders have asked for a meeting with the commissioners.

"We can talk to the Board of Education until we're blue in the face," said Jessica Parrott of Marriottsville, a Liberty High School senior and president of CCSGA. The school board is sympathetic, Parrott said, but the money comes from the county and state.

"The Board of Education can talk to the commissioners, but that's not the same as the student government going to the commissioners and saying, 'This is the way it is.' "

The meeting has not been scheduled, but W. Benjamin Brown said he and Commissioners Richard T. Yates and Donald I. Dell hope to take a morning to meet with the students at one of the high schools.

"I'm very supportive of the SGA request to meet with us," Brown said. "I think it's a good step, and I look forward to a good conversation."

Parrott said students want to know what the commissioners are doing about crowding, specifically at the high schools, and where and when they plan to build a new high school.

The school board and commissioners intend to build a new school in southern Carroll by 2001, and another one in Westminster a year or two later. However, the county's planning commission has questioned the need for two high schools, and debate continues.

Parrott said she and fellow student leaders are encouraged by the receptiveness of the school board to their concerns. Last school year, several of them met with the school board for about three hours to talk over everything from weighted grades to smoke-filled restrooms.

But school boards in Maryland are not fiscally autonomous; it is the county government that holds the purse strings.

The past few years' crop of student leaders has been politically astute enough to notice that, school board members say. They know to take school policy issues to the school board, but to put their concerns about money before the commissioners and state leaders.

"I think in the last few years, [the Student Government Association] has been more pro-active and stepped up to the plate," said C. Scott Stone, president of the Carroll County Board of Education.

Past President Joseph D. Mish Jr. was a social studies teacher here for three decades, and a school board member since 1990. He has observed student activism since the late 1960s.

"I've seen other kinds of activism, but not concerted like this," Mish said. "This is probably unprecedented. It's not like burning draft cards in the 1960s. I don't see a rebellion. I would say it's a 'let's get this done' attitude."

Mish and Susan Nash Trevetto, a State Department of Education specialist who worked with student councils for several years, say this kind of student leadership and activism varies as much with the particular group of students as with the political climate.

"It's situational, and it really is dependent on what the issues are," Trevetto said. "It also depends on who is in student government."

In Carroll, the issue consuming parents, school board and county officials has been the millions of dollars needed to keep up with growing enrollment.

And the CCSGA president is a student at one of the most crowded county high schools. One of Parrott's classes at Liberty High was so crowded this year that a few students had no desks for a week.

And in the hallways, Liberty students can't help but bump into each other, Parrott said.

Parrott said she can't take sole credit for the activism, but as president, she put a priority this year on lobbying the commissioners and state legislators.

Marie Legg, a Francis Scott Key High senior who is the CCSGA representative to the school board, also is a politically astute student who has made connections with student leaders around the state, said Trevetto.

And last year, Legg's predecessor, Linnea Pagulayan, arranged the meeting with the school board at which the student leaders from each high school and the school board members had an unprecedented and extended discussion.

It even got results: A committee is looking seriously into weighted grades or class rank, so that students who take the most challenging and advanced courses don't drop in rank by getting B's and C's in those courses.

Pub Date: 1/06/98

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