School equity woes outlined for council

Report urges attention to accountability, leadership, boundaries

November 30, 1999|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

During the Thanksgiving holiday, an ad hoc committee of parents and residents from east and west Columbia came to a consensus on school system problems that need to be addressed.

The committee made its report to the Howard County Council last night at the council's third and final school equity meeting.

The council is seeking to determine why the public perceives inequities between older and newer county schools.

The committee, which also includes parents with children in focus schools, identified four areas that need urgent attention -- redistricting and open enrollment, equity, leadership and accountability.

Focus schools are those that receive extra resources because of lower academic performance.

The panel suggested that the school system redraw school boundary lines based on natural neighborhood boundaries, except where those borders would create a school that is under capacity.

The school system also should "take into account the socioeconomic composition of a school" when drawing boundaries, according to the committee's report.

Although open enrollment "is seen as being both positive and negative," the report said, the program also "is discriminatory for those families who can not afford transportation."

"You don't want to make drastic wholesale changes" to either area, said committee member Bob Grandfield. "We're just saying look at these things."

To achieve equity, the committee said, the school system should identify the needs of all schools that are below county minimums in various areas and develop a two-year plan to address them.

The committee also suggested that the school system provide technology standards for older buildings to keep pace with the technology provided at newer buildings, and limit the transfers of experienced teachers and administrators from older schools to newer ones.

The school system also should investigate leasing computers so that it could have the latest advances, the committee said.

The panel suggested increased salaries for teachers and other Department of Education employees.

The committee said the school system should provide more detailed information to the public and that the information should be more useful. Instead of percentages, "provide by school the actual numbers of students when reporting testing and student performance data," the report said.

Evaluations of administrators should be made public, the panel said, and report cards on each school should be issued.

The committee strongly recommended that the school system eliminate the label "focus school" from several schools.

"Labels harm the children who attend these schools and impact the integrity of our neighborhoods," committee member Margaret Hunt said.

The council will present the committee's findings to the school board Monday.

Bill Benton, co-chairman of the separate Leadership Committee on School Equity, said the ad hoc panel's report would be helpful.

"Many of the things they raised and addressed are on the same list of 40 things we came up with at our meeting," Benton said. "Now we can just pick up where they left off."

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