With today marking the start of a second semester in Anne Arundel County schools, here's a look back at an eventful first semester.
State test results
Results from the 1996-1997 Maryland State Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) and SATs came out during the semester. While overall results of tests were lackluster, school officials adroitly found the good news in the disappointing figures.
They pointed to:
An increasing number of county schools rating satisfactory or excellent on the MSPAPs since 1993.
Composite scores above the state average.
Still, a majority of schools are not performing satisfactorily on the tests.
Although SAT scores remained the same countywide from 1995-1996 to 1996-1997 in verbal and went up 3 points in math, five high schools showed declines in verbal scores. And scores by black students were up 12 points on verbal and 16 points on math, but were still far below the scores achieved by white and Asian students.
Since fall, two schools have opened: Meade Heights Elementary on Fort Meade and South Shore Elementary in Crownsville.
Broadneck Senior High School in Cape St. Claire, which had closed temporarily, reopened this fall after an overhaul transformed it from a three-year to four-year high school.
Also, a shift from the unsuccessful but stylish open-space schools from the 1960s and 1970s to self-contained classrooms is quietly under way at 25 county buildings.
Between September and January, the Timonium architectural firm of URS Greiner Inc. spent about $20,000 checking the configurations of open-space schools and coming up with ideas to retrofit them with barriers.
The architects estimate that putting up 5-foot walls to block out noise would cost $448,000 to $764,000 per school, and that putting up floor-to-ceiling walls would cost $362,000 to $2.5 million per school, depending on the building's square footage, age, and layout, said Ralph A. Luther, director of school facilities.
The school board is to decide Feb. 18.
A $24,000 project called AVID -- Advancement Via Individual Determination -- begins today at Annapolis Middle School and Annapolis High School.
The goal is to turn average students who might fall within the cracks into academic stars by getting them organized and focused on school work.
Thirteen girls and 12 boys -- typically C students -- have been selected to participate from Annapolis Middle, said Principal Reginald Farrare.
Students from Anne Arundel Community College and St. John's College will go to Annapolis Middle during first period to help them organize their notebooks, get them in the habit of taking college-style notes and teach them to be meticulous about homework assignments.
For the first time this semester, the county has had an alternative school to which it can send disruptive students.
Providence Academy in Crownsville marked its one-year anniversary this month.
Principal Joan A. Valentine said things are settling nicely -- classes each have about seven students, a new guidance counselor joined the faculty this school year, and a teacher was promoted to administrator.
Enrollment has grown from about 38 students in the 1996-1997 school year to 58.
Class-cutting has decreased, Valentine said.
"They don't cut here," the principal said. "There's no place for them to go."
However, not all went well during the first semester.
Daily bomb threats continue to disrupt classes.
This school year "started out rather explosive," said School Board President Carlesa Finney. "Very, very, very, rocky with all of the bomb threats, and the concern for students, and the need to assure safe environment for students."
The cost to the county in fire and police services has exceeded $1 million since the threats began last spring.
Another disappointment was that Meade Middle School, which originally was scheduled to open this month, has been hit by construction delays that will keep the doors closed until the start of the 1998-1999 school year.
The school system also ran into some embarrassing national publicity this month after Superintendent Carol Parham pulled Maya Angelou's autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," from the ninth-grade curriculum.
The superintendent said she took the action after some parents complained that the book's language and sex topics were too mature for ninth-graders.
The book could be reinstated next year for ninth-graders if a committee of parents, teachers and students determines this spring that it is appropriate.
Watch for two major issues to dominate educators' attention during the second semester:
Redistricting to reduce enrollment at overcrowded Arundel High School.
The proposed budget for the next school year.
Citizens have been invited to speak out at a hearing on Feb. 23 about transferring students who live in Crofton and who normally would attend Arundel High to under-enrolled South River High School in Edgewater.