Parents quiz school board

Crowding, schedules, planning time aired at informal session

Often, answer is `money'

October 17, 2001|By Tanika White | By Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Behind a boardroom podium with television cameras whirring, Howard County parents give eloquent speeches, complete with hard data and occasional visuals.

But seated in a cozy circle around plastic foam cups of coffee in a school's media center, they let the stuffy formalities go and just talked.

The Board of Education members who sit with them at such "Coffee and Conversation" meetings are also able to forgo Roberts Rules of Order, listen carefully to the parents and respond.

Last night, four of the five school board members gathered at Lime Kiln Middle School and discussed a number of topics on parents' minds, including school crowding, teacher planning time, school schedules and vocational education.

Tom Ugast, a Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School parent, said elementary teachers have been clamoring for more built-in group planning time during which teaching teams can assess students and agree on a collective teaching strategy for each child.`This is a genuine concern, and it is one that we really need to address," said board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French.

Ugast said parents would volunteer to help staff classrooms so that teachers could take a half-day once a month or two hours every two weeks to do more group planning.

Board member Patricia S. Gordon said substitutes in class don't provide as valuable a teaching experience as trained teachers do and added that when she was a teacher she considered the hours after 3 p.m. her time to plan. Today's teachers should, too, she said.

Many of the questions last night elicited the same response from board members: Money.

When River Hill High School sophomore Andrew Acs asked why the new Reservoir High was being filled with three grades of students instead of two to minimize disruption, board member Virginia Charles said the County Council would "[kill us] if we spent $40 million to build a brand new school and only filled it with half the students and left the other schools overcrowded."

When Celeste Homan, the mother of a Lime Kiln seventh-grader, wondered why board members did not consider building smaller high schools, with seats for no more than 800, board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said, "It's costly."

Board members also told Homan that smaller schools don't give students the varied choices of courses that larger schools do.`There are other ways to deal with trying to make a large school community into a smaller, more caring community," French said.

Sometimes the dialogue was between parents and other parents, or between parents and students.

Lori Beatty, a Clarksville Elementary School mother and occupational therapist, said she has noticed by observing her children that kindergartners and first-graders are not receiving the proper handwriting training to help them develop fine motor skills.

Former Hammond Elementary School first-grade teacher Patti Fisher said she had noticed the same thing. When she was a teacher, she said, she carefully taught children how to hold their pencils properly.

Now, when her children come home from school, she said, they tell her, "My teacher says I can hold my pencil any way I want."

Board members agreed after the discussion that they should look into handwriting instruction.

Homan asked whether the board would consider starting the school day later. Many students have to be ready for school by 6:30 a.m., she said.

Andrew Acs jumped in to let her know that "I like getting home at 2:30. I would not want to give that up for an extra half-hour's sleep."

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