Elementary's principal seeks parents' input

Town meeting set for tonight at Forest Ridge school

August 11, 1999|By Jamal E. Watson | Jamal E. Watson,SUN STAFF

As a new school year rapidly approaches, Forest Ridge Elementary School Principal Allan J. Olchowski acknowledges being a bit nervous.

Olchowski isn't going through the typical rookie jitters that initially consume many teachers and administrators who enter a school building for the first time, unsure of what to expect.

He has experience. For 30 years, the longtime school administrator has been educating schoolchildren across Maryland, the past seven at Longfellow Elementary School in Columbia.

The nervousness he feels has little to do with his confidence in his abilities or credentials. Rather, it has to do with the challenge of running a new school.

As part of the county school system's yearly reshuffling of teachers and administrators, Olchowski was informed a few months ago that he would be transferred from Longfellow to Forest Ridge in North Laurel.

"It's always a difficult situation to leave a place, especially after making good friends," he said, contemplating his first month on the job. "But how can you be sad about coming to Forest Ridge? It's a great school."

At Forest Ridge, scores on the standardized Maryland State Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) generally are average or slightly above average for the county, and parental involvement is strong.

"I am trying to learn the culture of the school," Olchowski said. "I want to hear from the primary stakeholders of a child's education -- the parents. I want to hear all of the terrific things that they have to say about the school, and I want them to give me a wish list of things that they want to see done differently."

Tonight, Olchowski will have a chance to hear from parents. The school will be host of a town meeting to solicit views on ways to improve and shape the school for the coming year.

The Ellicott City resident taught for five years in Baltimore schools after graduating from Towson State University in the late 1960s. He went on to study at the Johns Hopkins University and Coppin State College, and he earned a doctorate in psychology from Catholic University in Washington.

Olchowski relishes being a partner with the community.

"Schools reflect society. You can't divorce the two," he said, adding that community activists, parents, teachers and administrators must address the challenges that face pupils.

"We have an awesome responsibility of shaping the minds of our future," he said. "I am justifiably proud of the Howard County school system because we're doing that."

Yesterday morning, Olchowski strolled the halls welcoming parents who had come to the school to have their children take a placement test before entering kindergarten. Then, he was on the phone, working out last-minute details for school bus service.

His days are busy.

Parents say they're impressed by his initiative.

"I've heard only good things about him," said Cindy Bork, whose daughter will begin kindergarten at the school in a few weeks. Laura Weir, another parent, said she was impressed that Olchowski sent a letter to parents introducing himself.

In addition to working long hours, Olchowski said, he plans to continue coaching a Little League lacrosse team based in Catonsville, which he has been doing for years. He developed a love for the sport while a student at Towson State.

The last items he has yet to hang on his office wall are his old lacrosse stick and a picture of the younger Olchowski gliding across the field. Those will go up in the next week or so.

The Forest Ridge town meeting is tonight at 7 at the elementary school, 9550 Gorman Road. Information: 410-880-5950.

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