Hairston offers rosy view of schools

Balto. Co. superintendent says system is `poised to make a breakthrough'

August 17, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston told principals and administrators yesterday that the school system is making progress - and should be able to continue doing so - despite the mounting challenges brought by changing demographics, new federal mandates and a new state assessment test.

"We are able to manage the changes that are taking place all around us," Hairston told the 700 school officials who gathered at Loch Raven High School. "Our successes show we are making progress in the midst of change."

In an annual address heralding the new school year, which begins Aug. 26, Hairston said students were scoring higher on the SAT and Advanced Placement tests, and he said the key to further gains was concentrating on the basics - reading, writing and mathematics - and making children excited about learning.

The superintendent said the school system could continue to improve by taking advantage of several new initiatives that his administration has put into place, including computer programs enabling teachers to monitor the performance of their students and an "Academic Intervention Team" of teachers who help struggling schools.

"We are poised to make a breakthrough," he said.

The coming school year will be the third in Baltimore County for Hairston, who is trying to steer a district whose minority enrollment more than doubled during the 1990s.

The federal government, meanwhile, imposed more standardized testing and other accountability measures in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and the state is writing a new assessment test.

In the county, the growing number of minorities, now amounting to almost 43,000 of the system's 107,600 students, has heightened concerns about an academic "achievement gap" between minorities and non-minorities.

Uncertainty about what the state will emphasize on its new assessment test and the ramifications of the No Child Left Behind Act also worries educators.

In his 20-minute speech, Hairston sought to reassure the audience that the school system was well situated to respond to the changes.

He called everyone "winners," reminded them of their "successes and strengths" and said the rest of the country is playing catch-up with the Baltimore County schools.

"We are a place where standards are high for all children and where all schools are places that all parents would be proud to send their children," he said.

Much of the address took the form of a pep talk, with Hairston quoting everyone from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Gandhi, telling the audience to disregard the "negative energy that is out there" and bring "persistence and positive attitudes" to the education of the system's students.

The superintendent, a World War II buff, asked school officials to "show that same resolve and that same relentless commitment" that Americans displayed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

"If you feel bottled up in a foxhole, then knock the big guns out. We cannot afford to be paralyzed by the enormity of No Child Left Behind or by unexpected challenges," he said. "Children will still be coming through the door on Aug. 26."

The address, long given at the Administrative and Supervisory Meeting right before the start of each school year, is an opportunity for superintendents to set a tone and establish goals for the coming term.

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