Willoughby touts engineering background School board candidate says his training would be unique among panelists

October 14, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

When engineer Arthur Neal Willoughby talks about ensuring that Howard County's students have successful futures, he means it in the broadest possible sense. The Jessup resident sees a direct link between well-prepared graduates and, say, the gross national product.

"When I go and retire, it'll make my particular quality of life that much better," the 40-year-old said. "If they're working, the county is productive. The gross national product is going to increase."

Willoughby -- who ran unsuccessfully for a school board seat in 1996 -- often takes a broad view of issues. As a civil engineering instructor at Morgan State University and a 14-year employee of the Department of Defense, the candidate leans toward bolstering the county's science and math curriculum.

But while he touts the importance of exposing students to obscure mapping databases and hand-held computers, his platform includes offering more physical education and music classes and making cheerleading part of the athletics program.

Discussing his physical fitness proposal, Willoughby suggested that a lack of exercise might be partly to blame for ills such as attention deficit disorder, which medical experts define as a neurological problem that inhibits a person's ability to focus.

"They're not releasing some of that energy," Willoughby said.

Willoughby is using his engineering experience as the basis of his campaign. He said he was motivated to run because no one on the school board had such a qualification.

"I think my background as an engineer, mathematician and educator gives me extensive background to be part of the school board," he said. "It's very important for someone on the board to understand what technology brings to the forefront."

Willoughby, who has one child in the school system, co-founded a program at Morgan State called the Earth Watch Exploration Program, which exposes middle school students to civil engineering, technical writing and math during the summer.

On the crowding expected to face 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 above capacity by 2004.

Willoughby favors a close study of county population dynamics and getting developers to pay for the impact of the houses and apartments they build.

"When developers come into our county they should pay their share of money toward construction of new schools," he said.

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.

Quarterly monitoring of the county's focus schools -- campuses that get extra teachers and other teaching resources because of the schools' lower test scores -- is one of Willoughby's suggestions.

He also said the school system should aggressively seek federal grants that might address the problem.

On diversity concerns raised by the NAACP:

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

Willoughby says, "Howard County needs as many qualified teachers of color as possible." He suggested identifying potential minority teachers as early as their college years.

"Interview them as they exit college," Willoughby said. "We must have an active human resources department."

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

The solution, Willoughby said, is higher salaries.

"These people come looking for us if we are competitive in salaries," he said. "Competitive salaries would attract some of the best teachers. Timely recruiting would help fill the void of not having enough qualified teachers."

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

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

Though Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said offering weighted rank this year would put a strain on guidance counselors, Willoughby said it should be implemented by next year if it can be done correctly.

However, he conceded that he would leave it up to guidance counselors.

Counselors who work overtime toward establishing a weighted ranking system should be offered "nonmonetary" rewards, Willoughby said.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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