Board OKs plan again

Addition of reading reaffirmed after loss of electives criticized

`A commitment we made'

New program means sixth-graders to get extra period next year

Anne Arundel

May 03, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

In an unusual move, the Anne Arundel County school board answered critics yesterday- including a vocal group of parents and an outspoken county executive - by formally reaffirming its commitment to a new program that will double the amount of time spent on reading in middle schools.

The vote was the same as the first. The motion passed with one board member - Chairman Paul G. Rudolph - dissenting.

"This is not something we have a choice about doing," said board member Vaughn Brown. "We have an absolute responsibility to the young people of Anne Arundel County to provide them the opportunity to be successful.

"It's a commitment we made, and it's a commitment we need to stand by. The plans are in place. We're going to keep them in place."

Because the new program means an extra period of reading starting with next year's sixth-graders, it means one fewer period for electives such as band, chorus and home economics. That has left some parents angry, particularly those who believe their children are above-average readers who would benefit more from cultural arts than from more time learning reading basics.

Superintendent Carol S. Parham's reading plan is a response to poor standardized test scores in the eighth grade, scores that show pupils have lost ground from where they performed in fifth grade.

The vote was a day after County Executive Janet S. Owens spoke out against the reading program, and said her proposed operating budget left out the funding to pay for 19 teachers who were to support the new program. She said the budget was tight.

Meanwhile, budget officials with the school system, having had an opportunity late Tuesday and yesterday to review Owens' budget proposal, found 19 discretionary teaching positions in the budget - extra positions not allocated to a particular department. Officials said they had never received teachers they didn't specifically request. They said they don't know where those teaching positions would be assigned.

`Any instructional position'

"They can be used for any instructional position," said Kenneth P. Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services.

Owens' budget also denied the board's request for a $75,000- a-year coordinator of middle school reading and $200,000 for extra standardized testing, a portion of which was to support the middle school initiative.

The County Council is expected to approve a spending plan by late this month.

For the first time since the embattled middle school program was proposed in January, half the speakers at yesterday's meeting were in favor of it. One parent called herself part of the "silent majority."

"I have difficulty understanding why more people aren't openly supporting the additional reading program," said Michelle Rose, a mother of four sons, two of whom are in Severna Park schools. "No one should be able to have it all. It is the law of supply and demand. I don't feel the [schools should be providing] free instrument and music lessons. This is a nicety, not a necessity."

Speaking in opposition

Several of those opposed to the program spoke.

Earlier, they heard the school system staff present the board with a list of courses that won't be offered to sixth-graders next year - confirming fears that more reading equals fewer elective choices for their children.

Eight middle schools will not be offering general music to sixth-graders. Four will eliminate family and consumer science (formerly home economics) for them, three technical education, two a foreign language introductory course, and one won't offer art to sixth-graders.

"As a mom, I feel so frustrated because I want to know my fourth-grader gets what my eighth-grader got," said Bonnie Gollup of Lothian.

The board members were not swayed. They spoke with more fervor than before.

"I have 16 days left in English class," said Alicia Pettit, the school board's student member and a senior at Severna Park High School. "We're still learning where to put commas in sentences. ... We should have known this back in sixth grade. We should have been learning this then.

"I don't care if it takes three periods, you shouldn't graduate from high school without knowing this."

Other actions

The Anne Arundel County school board did the following yesterday:

Approved a request from the Air Committee, made up of parents from Arundel Middle School and Arundel High School, to install some air-conditioning units in the schools. Parents have raised more than $10,000, nearly enough to rewire the top floor of Arundel Middle for the added electrical usage, and will continue to raise money to get 25 $800 units installed, said parent Joseph Zimmerman. The high school will get four window units while it awaits central air in 2004. No school board money will be used.

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