School board candidate Amato says his anger will help bring change His children give him insight into system

October 11, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Glenn Amato is aware that some people have described him as a one-issue candidate.

And while he admits that anger at the system motivated him to run for a Howard County school board seat, "people don't go and make changes when they're happy," he said. "The issue I have is [that] all children need to be educated to their fullest potential -- not just the easy ones to educate."

The 42-year-old Ryder transportation manager has been vocal about his long-standing dispute with public school officials over the education of his son Gordon, a sixth-grader. He said the Howard County school system continued to pass Gordon, though he was not learning basic math and reading skills.

The child now attends Anne Arundel County's Summit School for learning-disabled children, which costs the family $15,800 a year. Amato hopes to recoup those expenses from the school district through negotiations. Failing that, the candidate said a civil lawsuit is likely.

He makes no apologies.

"Just because you're on the school board doesn't mean that you can no longer advocate for your child," he said.

Amato has three other children who span first to ninth grade, which he says gives him further insight into the workings of the school system.

"I'm aware of what goes on in the schools," Amato said. "I have a learning-disabled child. I certainly have learned how the school system works in that department."

Amato said he wants to represent parents who have been "abused by the system" and hopes to see the school system become more interested in their input. Though he has criticized school officials -- including Superintendent Michael E. Hickey -- Amato doesn't think that will impede his ability to be an effective board member.

"In the world, you work with people that you don't necessarily like," Amato said. "As a professional, you do what needs to be done."

On the school crowding expected to take place in the next decade: School officials expect 20 of 37 elementary schools, nine of 16 middle schools and eight of 10 high schools to be over capacity by 2004.

Amato said the County Council needs to take more responsibility for the problem, with the county executive providing funding for school expansion and construction to keep pace with residential development.

"If they're going to allow builders to come in and build the County Council needs to step up and give the school system the money it needs to do what needs to be done," Amato said. "They can't have it both ways."

On the overall test achievement gap between black and white students:

Recent test scores revealed a significant gap between black and white children, though system-wide scores were above the national average.

Amato said he is "a firm believer" in the need for tracking and placing all children in appropriate learning levels. He said his son Gordon is doing well partly because he has been grouped with children of similar learning styles and abilities.

"I think that children need to be placed in with their peers," Amato said. "That way, a teacher isn't trying to teach to 10 different ability levels. That way, you can direct more resources to the teachers who need the additional help."

On the shortage of substitute and permanent teachers:

For several years, Howard County has had a high demand for substitutes, and several schools opened this year without enough full-time teachers.

Amato said that instead of pulling teachers out of the classroom for training during the year -- which officials have acknowledged contributes to the substitute crunch -- some time should be set aside at the end of the summer for teachers to receive a chunk of training.

"Why can't we take the teachers and do the training two weeks before they have to report back to school in the summertime?" Amato said. "That way, you need less substitutes during the school year. The teachers still have their training."

Amato called the constant use of substitute teachers "disruptive" to the learning process.

"When you bring in a sub there's a different teaching style," he said. "The sub doesn't know the ability level of the children."

The school system could solve its shortage of permanent teachers by hiring more experienced ones, who tend to cost more money, he said.

"I would think that you need a more even mix of experience and new ideas to put together a really good, strong teaching base," Amato said. "And let's face it, teachers with experience cost more."

On the staff diversity concerns raised by the local NAACP:

In August, the Howard County NAACP accused the school system of not hiring enough African-Americans and of passing over qualified job applicants.

Amato said the focus should be on recruiting and hiring the best teachers, period.

"It doesn't matter to me [whether they are] black, white, green, red, orange, purple," he said.

Amato added that the candidates might not always be available.

"I'm in the recruiting business," he said. "Sometimes it doesn't matter how much you recruit. You just sometimes can't hire the person you're targeting."

On whether weighted class rank should be implemented for the 1999 graduating class:

The school board recently voted to offer a weighted ranking option -- which would give high school students extra quality points for excelling in advanced-level classes -- beginning with the Class of 2000.

Hickey said guidance counselors simply would not have enough time this year to reorganize the records and set up a new ranking system. Amato isn't sure he believes that explanation.

"Anything can be done if you put enough effort into it," Amato said. "That's one of the big problems with the school system. They won't tell you why. They tell you, 'You can't do this' just because."

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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