The same night that the Carroll County Board of Education expanded and reshaped its multicultural education council, several parents and community activists urged the board to quickly address the growing achievement gap among races, calling the widening disparities on test scores "a state of crisis."
Carroll County sank from fourth to seventh place in the statewide rankings of Maryland's annual pupil assessment exams as scores fell in 13 of 18 areas. But parents who are members of the Carroll chapter of the NAACP told the board last night that the scores of African-American pupils are of even greater concern.
"The Maryland State Board of Education has determined its most important priority for the schools of Maryland is improving minority achievement and closing the gap," said Pat Staples, reading a statement prepared by Maryland Board of Education President Philip P. Benzil, who lives in Westminster. "Carroll County, like many other systems in Maryland, is not meeting these aims. ... It is well past the time for Carroll County to get on board and put more than lip service toward this goal."
Phyllis Black of Westminster offered the assistance of the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, of which she is president. "Every one of you needs to make a firm commitment to take whatever measures necessary to address this problem" so that minority students "are not cheated from the opportunity to reach their full potential," Black said.
In scores released last month from the most recent round of Maryland School Performance Assessment Program testing, black third-graders in Carroll scored an average of 24 points below their white classmates. In fifth grade, African-American pupils scored an average of 26 points lower. Black eighth-graders scored an average of nine points below white eighth-graders. Only in eighth-grade language did the scores of African-American pupils top those of their white classmates - by 2.5 points.
Barry Gelsinger, director of curriculum and staff development and the chairman of the county's Council for Education That is Multicultural, told the board that it is important to acknowledge a problem.
Referring to the comments and concerns of the parents who spoke earlier during the meeting, Gelsinger said, "Sometimes they make us feel uncomfortable but they are real and we do need to start responding to them. There's no other way to say this - we are a white community and we have a responsibility to our children, who sometimes will have to go outside Carroll County to live in other parts of the country and the world.
"There is a diversity in the world that differs from the makeup of Carroll County."
In reshaping the focus of the council, which will now report to the school board and superintendent, and diversifying its membership, Gelsinger said school officials have chosen 25 administrators, teachers, students and minority advocates who are committed to taking action. Half the group, he said, is from diverse racial, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The group's slogan is, "We are what we do, not what we say and think."
In other business, the much-debated new high school for the Westminster area was given a name last night - Winters Mill High School. The $35.4 million project, under construction at Gorsuch Road and Center Street, continues to be the subject of much debate.
The state has repeatedly refused to fund any part of the school, saying student enrollment projections do not justify it. School officials will appeal to the state the most recent denial of reimbursement funds next week.
The board also honored longtime members Ann M. Ballard and Joseph D. Mish Jr., who did not seek re-election this year and will be leaving the board. Both joined the board in 1991.