Waters wants tougher school conduct code School board candidate says vague policy makes punishment inconsistent

October 13, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Laura Waters has said repeatedly that schoolchildren are much more unruly and disrespectful than they were a decade ago.

So the former substitute teacher -- who spent three years at Howard High School -- has centered her campaign for the school board on toughening the school system's code of conduct.

Waters, 51, of Columbia said the code is too vague and is subject to individual interpretation. Two children who commit the same offense can get different punishments if they are sent to two administrators, she said.

"That's not consistent," she said. "You've got to have the consequence. It's my primary thing."

Waters said she would like to see a specific set of consequences, based on which rules are broken. On several occasions, Waters has described gifted students as among the worst behaved.

"Some teachers and administrators let them break rules," she said. "They also think they're God's gift to the world because they're smart. When the substitute [teacher] comes, they try to get away with as much as they can."

Waters substituted and volunteered at Howard High School from 1994 to 1997 and taught summer school in 1996. She also lists her chaperoning and attendance of "three proms, three homecomings and four graduations" as qualifications.

Last year, she taught U.S. government to eighth-graders in Prince George's County, but she said she had to resign after about four months because of asthma.

Waters, who is not employed, does not expect her health to be an issue if she is elected. As a school board member, she believes she would be better able to pace herself and control her daily schedule. Teaching full-time was too physically demanding, she said.

"Teaching is a 24-hour-a-day job," she said. "There isn't any other job that I know of that's quite like teaching. You take your work home with you."

On the crowding expected to take place in Howard County schools 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.

One solution might be for schools that are built near each other to share space, Waters said. For example, if Burleigh Middle School has extra space and adjacent Centennial High School is cramped, the high school students could take some classes in Burleigh's building, she said.

"Dasher Green Elementary and Owen Brown Middle School are in the same building," Waters said. "That was a good idea. I'm surprised that they've never done that again."

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

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

While some of the problem is socioeconomic, Waters said, children who don't grasp the basics shouldn't get passed from grade to grade.

"In cases where the kid doesn't have basic skills, some attempt should be made to involve the parent in helping their child," she said. "If they don't know how to read, promoting them all the time is going to make those problems worse. They're going to take these tests and they're not going to do well. Why they're not learning the stuff, I don't know."

Waters said bringing African-American role models into the classrooms also may help.

In a recent interview, the candidate said that teachers should "stop being afraid to discipline black children to help them." But when asked in a later interview to elaborate, Waters said she didn't recall making the comment.

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.

Waters said substitute teachers deserve better treatment from students and teachers. She said some teachers don't leave lesson plans for substitutes, and some students have told her it's "our job to harass substitutes."

In a Village News column in 1996, Waters described being hit by a spitball, and students cursing her, shooting rubber bands and ignoring her instructions.

"It used to be not a bad job, and now it is just hell," Waters said.

She suggested offering substitute teachers medical insurance and reprimanding teachers who don't provide lesson plans.

On the alternative school proposal:

The school board has approved initial plans for an "alternative learning center" to serve the county's most emotionally troubled students.

The candidate likes the idea of an alternative school but thinks it is lacking a vocational component.

"There has to be job training," she said. "Some of those kids are not gonna go to college. Everybody needs a job skill."

On the diversity concerns raised by the local NAACP:

In August, the Howard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People accused the school system of not hiring enough African-Americans and passing over qualified applicants.

Waters said the perceived inequities in the school system go across racial lines.

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