First day for Cranberry

Transitions: The new elementary school is but one of many changes in effect this year in the Carroll school district.

August 30, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Cranberry Station Elementary has been a source of headaches for the Carroll County school system. It is the subject of a $45 million lawsuit filed by the contractor originally hired to build it and was $1.7 million over budget.

Finally, today, something positive can be said about Cranberry.

It's open.

"This is a major point of celebration," said Vernon F. Smith, assistant superintendent for administration. "But every new school, and its construction, brings with it many challenges."

Pupils who pour into the building this morning, after a ribbon-cutting ceremony, will find spotless floors, untouched desks and rows of -- aptly -- cranberry-colored lockers.

With the opening of Cranberry, Smith said, all Westminster-area elementary schools, except Charles Carroll, open today under capacity.

As 27,000 students in Carroll County file back into their classrooms, they and their parents may notice a few changes -- from new classes to help ninth-graders deal with the transition to high school to a new program to warn families when pesticides are sprayed.

At Cranberry, a few minor snags remained last week.

Two giant "Road Closed" signs that were supposed to have disappeared still stood beside the school. A project to connect Center Street to Gorsuch Road had to be delayed for several weeks after two water mains were found beneath the street. That delay is forcing school buses to enter the school from Route 140.

Also, a shipment of tables that will hold two computers in every classroom had not arrived. Principal Judith Walker -- who applauded her staff for having everything in place despite being in an unfamiliar environment -- said the tables would arrive by tomorrow.

"They are loading them in Illinois as we speak," Walker said at an open house for pupils and parents Friday.

The opening of school today also marks the beginning of a new pilot program for teachers.

Tenured teachers at all grade levels this year have the option of abandoning the traditional system of evaluation in which principals and supervisors slip into the back of the classroom several times a year, take notes and assess the instructor's performance.

Instead, they may choose one of two methods, both of which are more self-evaluation.

They can maintain a portfolio of "artifacts" -- anything from lesson plans, to videos of classes, to written feedback from students or parents -- that they review with administrators at the end of the year.

The second option is a collaborative model, in which a group of teachers meets to establish goals for improvement and works throughout the year to meet them. The group consults with administrators at year's end to review how the teachers have refined their skills and worked to help the children achieve.

Similar "differentiated supervision" models are in place in Howard County and in an increasing number of systems nationwide. Barry Gelsinger, Carroll's director of curriculum and staff development, said the education field is far behind other professions in encouraging self-evaluation.

"The more traditional method is rooted in the Industrial Revolution -- line up the workers and inspect them," he said. "Teachers who are empowered to make decisions based on the needs of students in their classrooms and the subjects they teach will be more productive."

To be eligible to make the choice, teachers must have two years of experience, hold a professional teaching certificate and have the approval of their supervisors. Gelsinger said he would not know until later next month what percentage of the county's teachers would participate this year.

"This is not saying teachers aren't accountable for their performance, but that they are a part of their goal-setting, and their self-assessment," said Karl Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association. "This sounds like treating teachers like adults -- what a remarkable breakthrough."

Changes within

Also new in the school system this year:

A pilot "freshman seminar" program at Westminster High School. Ninth-graders can elect to take a for-credit course during the first marking period that hones their study skills, helps them plan their four-year curriculum and offers advice on surviving in a large-school setting. The program, which was developed to make the transition from middle to high school easier, may be expanded to other high schools in the future.

A first-time "character education" program in all grades that will highlight a new trait each month, beginning with respect next month. Administrators hope the program will ultimately drive down discipline problems, make for a safer learning environment and encourage higher student achievement. A list of the character traits can be found in the school system's calendar. Students this fall will participate in a logo contest for a character-education symbol that the system will use.

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