An end-of-summer ritual School: Baltimore County pupils returned to class yesterday as officials reveled in students' reading gains.

August 27, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Buoyed by sharply improved reading scores for young children and the opening of a new elementary school in Catonsville, Baltimore County began classes yesterday for about 105,000 students who returned to sometimes steamy buildings.

The end-of-summer ritual was repeated at 160 schools from Dundalk to Lansdowne, including the new Westchester Elementary School in Catonsville. Meanwhile, officials plan repairs and additions at dozens of older county schools this year, and a new Sparks Elementary opens in October, replacing the one that burned down in 1995.

But it was the school district's recent dramatic improvement in reading performance that drew Gov. Parris N. Glendening and school Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione yesterday to Pleasant Plains Elementary east of Towson.

"Pleasant Plains Elementary School was one of the schools that showed the very best improvement in reading skills in the entire state," Glendening told the cheering crowd assembled at the school's entrance at 8: 20 a.m. "I know you all worked really hard on that, and it's great."

According to scores released last week, the proportion of first-graders reading at or above grade level at Pleasant Plains increased from 59 percent to 91 percent during the last school year, while second-graders performing at grade level jumped from 53 percent to 86 percent.

Countywide, the reading scores increased more than 20 percent during the past school year, meaning that 85 percent of first- and second-graders were at or above grade level by spring.

County schools spokeswoman Sharon Norman said elementary schools this year will feature a revived emphasis on writing and spelling.

Against that backdrop, the superintendent was upbeat about all the county schools this year.

"I feel good, and I think we're ready with programs in place," Marchione said.

Pleasant Plains, a 40-year-old red brick and aqua-paneled school in a demographically changing rowhouse neighborhood near Loch Raven Boulevard, seemed the perfect setting for Glendening's themes of Smart Growth and educational renewal in older neighborhoods.

Principal Jennifer Pahl said the school is beginning a "Community Renaissance" push to revitalize the school's spirit and structure. The effort includes new interior lights and new boilers this year, courtesy of state funding.

"We have a lot of energy in this building and a lot of talent on the staff," Pahl said.

Her teachers seemed to agree. "The staff is a lot happier and a lot more energized" than in years past, said first-grade teacher David Shauch.

It was a magic morning for 6-year-old Karis Baker, who waited near the governor with her mother, Valerie, for her first day of first grade.

Dressed in a white top and striped jumper, Karis also wore a plastic tiara adorned with a purple heart that announced "Birthday Girl." Said her mother: "We're very excited."

Later, Marchione visited Cockeysville Middle School, where students from Sparks Elementary have been attending classes while their building off Interstate 83 near Belfast Road is being finished.

At Milford Mill Academy, Marchione was met by a stoic group of ninth-graders. The superintendent greeted small groups of incoming freshmen who were learning what to expect in high school -- from the rules in the student handbook to policies on sexual harassment.

Darius Byrd, 14, endured the orientation but said he enjoyed practicing for football much more, despite the heat.

Christian Hopkins and Danielle Fleet, both 14, sat in the stuffy cafeteria, carefully dressed in attractive new clothes.

"At first I was happy" about starting high school, Christian said, complaining about the heat.

Despite the temperature, Danielle wore a classic, muted gray plaid suit and kept her jacket on. Why no informal summer wear on such a hot day?

"My mother," Danielle said.

Pub Date: 8/27/98

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