Educators tour Texas academies

Goal is to implement curricula that boost career preparedness

Improvements noted

Carroll could be first in Md. with program in all high schools

January 26, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

CARROLLTON, Texas -- A group of Carroll County educators visited Newman Smith High School yesterday in this Dallas suburb, where schoolwide reforms have made a traditionally successful school even more accomplished.

Led by Gregory Eckles, Carroll's director of secondary schools, the 11-member delegation of teachers, administrators and one school board member is visiting two innovative Texas high schools this week as Carroll moves toward becoming the first county in Maryland to create career academies in all of its high schools.

Today, they visit South Grand Prairie High in Grand Prairie, Texas, a school that, like Newman Smith, has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a "New American High School" -- an innovative institution where reform efforts have resulted in higher test scores, higher graduation and attendance rates, and lower dropout rates than those found at most of the nation's high schools.

At Newman Smith, the Carroll groups, as well as visitors from Cheyenne, Wyo., and other parts of Texas, listened as more than a dozen teachers described how an international business academy, an open-enrollment advanced placement course program, and academic interventions for ninth-graders have improved achievement throughout the racially and socioeconomically diverse school.

"We've always been an incredibly competitive school as far as academics go," Principal Lee Alvoid told the group. "But now, we've raised the expectations for everybody. We expect everybody to get the most they can out of their four years here."

The Carroll group also joined student tour guides for a look around the 2,000-student school, which is about two-thirds of the way through a $30 million renovation program. Many in Carroll's group were struck by the improvements, which include conference room-style classrooms, wide and brightly lighted hallways, and a high-ceilinged media center encased almost entirely in windows.

For about two years, Carroll school administrators have been gathering information about the concept of academies, in which students are divided into separate groups within their campuses, based on broad career interests, and kept with the same teachers over a period of years.

Carroll's two newest high schools -- Century High in Eldersburg is set to open in August, and Winters Mill High outside Westminster, a year later -- are being planned around this philosophy of creating smaller learning communities in which students put together a program that cumulatively prepares them for a career, rather than sign up for individual, oftentimes randomly selected classes.

In addition, the principals at the five existing Carroll high schools are looking at how they, too, can carve smaller, career-themed areas on their campuses.

Many Carroll teachers and administrators have visited academy model schools in the Baltimore-Washington area and are planning a trip to Colorado later this year. The trips are paid for with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

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