Just a few things to leave you with ...

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April 15, 2001|By NORRIS WEST

AFTER TWO wonderful and satisfying years, this is my last column on this page. The column is leaving, but I'm not.

In my new assignment, I'll still cover Anne Arundel County, but with a more regional approach. Expect lots of good suburban coverage on The Sun's editorial pages.

Because this is my last column, I want to leave you with a few things, some of which I've never explored. Or never explored fully. Time and space will permit only snapshots, so here goes.

Minority achievement: This issue is close to my heart. Year after year, we read about the achievement gap, of which minority students inhabit the short side.

Schools have taken almost all the blame. Unfairly so, I say. Schools haven't done all they could. The county has lots of talented teachers, but that doesn't mean all of them are able to bridge cultural gaps.

Having said that, let's start at the source of the problem. Lagging achievement and low standards begin at home and in communities. Parents are the first and best teachers.

It's their job to give children a head start and, when children become students, to remain active participants in schools. When parents volunteer in schools and visit classrooms, pupils realize that the home places a high premium on education.

Sons grow when their mothers read books to them. Daughters think when fathers talk to them about books and ideas.

When grown-ups become better parents, children become better students.

And churches and other community organizations can do more, particularly in single-family households and in troubled families.

Rail against racism, police brutality and similar evils when necessary, but minority leadership -- black leadership -- fails unless it also calls for a constant, concerted and committed fight for higher academic achievement.

Janet S. Owens: The county executive hasn't been perfect, but she's done a pretty good job.

Ms. Owens kept her big promises -- to fund education and rebuild good relationships between the county administration and the talented county schools superintendent.

Her agricultural preservation program is protecting land from preservation at an incredible pace. In two years, the program has saved more than half as much farmland as the county had in the 17 years before she took office. That's part of a good environmental record, which also includes refusing to issue school waivers for developers.

She has worked hard to balance environmental concerns against the county's tremendous economic development needs.

So far, it has been easy. The cooling economy will test her budget management skills.

County Council: The mostly rookie County Council often seems dysfunctional. The most impressive member, it seems to me, is Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, who should have gotten a shot to chair the panel. She works hard in the community and on council. She hasn't succeed in an effort to resolve a dispute between the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood and the Damascus House drug treatment center, but she has given it a good shot.

Council Chairwoman Shirley Murphy also gets high marks because of her enthusiasm, energy and commitment to representing her constituents.

Council's biggest problem is that myopia frequently strikes.

Minority business: The executive and council should be able to come up with a plan to boost minority-owned businesses. The recent census shows that Anne Arundel County is becoming increasingly diverse. And the county is one of the state's most affluent. Yet, minority businesses aren't doing that well. A group called RESPECT, led by entrepreneur Wesley Clemens, is trying to change that. He deserves support from the county's elected public officials, though, shamefully, not one is a minority.

General Assembly: The county delegation has some stars, including Democratic Del. Michael E. Busch and Joan Cadden and Senators Robert Neall and Philip C. Jimeno. Republican Del. John R. Leopold may be the delegation's most creative member, but why do I get the impression that his chief motive is to promote his personal political goals?

I shouldn't quibble. This is politics, after all.

Location: Arundel's is unrivaled with 527 miles of shoreline situated between Washington and Baltimore. And it has a little of everything -- farmland, an incredibly historic city, gritty neighborhoods and emerging ones.

The county could stand some improvement, but the county has great resources that should be protected.

Marley Elementary: A perk that comes with this job is that the boss lets me spend an hour a week volunteering. I get to help third-graders become better readers and writers. I get a kick from watching young eyes light up when reading or writing stories. I've read "Ghost of Sifty, Sifty Sam" so many times that I can almost recite the text. But watching eight-year-olds enjoy books never gets old. Even better is listening as they create their own stories. Marley reading specialist Donna Redmond does a great job coordinating programs to boost early language skills.

As I said, space doesn't permit me to mention more. But there's more to come, not in this space, but elsewhere. Feel free to email me at norris.west@baltsun.com.

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