Simpler education blueprint sought

Hairston's strategies for Balto. Co. schools too complex, board says

September 16, 2002|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County school board asked Superintendent Joe A. Hairston yesterday to simplify his "Blueprint for Progress," the plan he mentions whenever anyone asks how he intends to improve schools.

The school board, in its annual retreat to review the system's goals for the school year, said the public couldn't understand some of it.

While the board reaffirmed the superintendent's goals in the 10-page document, it asked him to make mostly cosmetic changes to the strategies for achieving those goals, essentially cleaning up the English and separating complex ideas tacked together.

The discussion amounted to a frank assessment of Hairston's plan not normally seen at board meetings. And in the process, the board reasserted its desire to be involved in setting the school system's priorities and monitoring its progress.

"We want to be more involved as a board in the final draft of the `Blueprint for Progress,' " said Jean M.H. Jung, a board member.

"I struggle with a lot of this language. I think I understand the concepts, but it's too roundabout," said Sanford V. Teplitzky, another board member.

Hairston said his staff, which was updating the 2-year-old plan to align it with changes required by new federal law on public education, would incorporate the board's suggestions in revisions to the plan.

"Whatever you want this to look like, we will make it look that way," Hairston said.

The "Blueprint for Progress" is a study in the specialized language of educationese. There is talk, common in education circles and predating Hairston's tenure in Baltimore County, of "continuous feedback processes" and "formative milestone assessments" and "differentiated professional development."

Board members complained that the technical language makes it difficult for parents to understand, and they said that makes it harder for parents to advocate for the school system come budget time.

Hairston, however, stressed that the concepts within the document were sound. Its strategies for lifting the achievement of all students, he said, foreshadowed those being required by the federal government.

The board reviewed each goal line-by-line, then each strategy for achieving those goals and finally the ways to measure progress toward the goals.

Underlying the discussion was admiration of the fast, ambitious start of Anne Arundel County's new superintendent, Eric J. Smith, who two months into the job has garnered headlines for various promises to raise student achievement by 2007.

"I would like us to emulate that," said John A. Hayden III, a board member.

Hairston took exception to the comparison with Smith, telling the board that the "Blueprint for Progress" made the same pledges that Smith did when it was introduced in June 2000, Hairston's first year as superintendent.

"I just don't want anyone to think some superintendent, some board in Anne Arundel County, has the cat's meow," he said. "There's nothing he said that isn't in there."

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