School administrator asks board to hire specialists

Three new teachers would help work with low-achieving pupils

November 24, 1999|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

A Howard County public school administrator proposed last night a hands-on approach to helping low-achieving pupils get up to speed: Send specialists into the classroom and the community armed with strategies for success.

Jacqueline F. Brown, coordinator of Academic Support Services, recommended that the school board hire two people to work with teachers one-on-one and another to give parents ideas for assisting their children at home.

The goal is to help all students who need it, but especially those who score below average on standardized tests: black, Hispanic and low-income pupils, and girls and boys in specific subjects. Test data show that in secondary schools, male students on average need more help in reading and female students in math, Brown said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun incorrectly implied that school board member Sandra H. French supported redistricting to spread lower-income students equally among schools. In fact, when French raised that question to school officials at a board meeting Tuesday night, she was passing along a question from residents.
The Sun regrets the error.

At present, she said, her office focuses mainly on research, developing programs and demonstrating initiatives.

"Our programs are either after school, on Saturdays, during the summer, or in school as parallel programming with whatever is happening in the `real' classroom," Brown said. "At best, our programming is peripheral to what's happening in the classroom, and that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to have a real impact on changing the patterns of achievement in Howard County."

Brown said she hopes to hire the extra staff members for next school year, at an estimated cost of $112,700.

County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said the idea of teachers training teachers by working with them in the classroom has been a boon to the school system in regular education. He said it makes sense to expand that initiative to address instruction of low-achieving groups of pupils.

The county has made some progress in improving scores among groups of low achievers, Hickey said, "but we need to change in a big way."

Brown said she envisions a family-education specialist showing parents how they can help their children succeed in school and "achievement equity" specialists who would spend a significant amount of time with teachers on an individual basis to help them meet the needs of students. Once a teacher in a school has had that assistance, he or she can share strategies with others in the building, she said.

"The cadre of people who say, `I can do this,' grows, and the system actually changes from the inside out," she said.

Board member Sandra H. French asked why the school system did not redistrict so every school has an equal percentage of lower-income students.

"I think the community does not understand how that feels to the kids and the parents," Brown said. "They are not contaminants. It is not a matter of dispersing them so they don't hit as hard. I don't think instructional excellence and academic excellence will ever, ever, ever be addressed by putting money in the gas tank of a bus."

In another development, the board hired the architectural firm Thomas Clark and Associates to design the high school planned to open August 2002 in Fulton. The firm, which will be paid $1.275 million, also designed the 3-year-old Long Reach High School.

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