1979 Mervo graduate shows good that city schools can do

March 03, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

IT SEEMED eerily ironic that Jerome Featherstone Sr. was awarded a posthumous Governor's Citation in the same building where state and local officials were trying to hash out a solution to Baltimore's public school crisis.

It has been 36 days since Featherstone -- a 42-year-old husband and father of three -- was killed in a car accident as he was returning to his Harford County home from his job in Virginia, where he worked with the Department of Homeland Security. Before that, he worked as a Howard County deputy sheriff and once won an award as Deputy Sheriff of the Year.

I first wrote about Featherstone in a Jan. 31 column, only days before his funeral, and told of the work he did in law enforcement and as a coach for the McKim Community Center junior league wrestling team. Featherstone and his younger brother, James, started wrestling for McKim as boys.

On Monday, Featherstone's widow, Pamela, stood with their daughter, Crystal, and other relatives and friends to pose for a picture with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. Pamela Featherstone held the citation, which read: "On behalf of the citizens of this state, we're pleased to confer upon you this citation for Jerome Featherstone Sr., whose leadership in the community and devoted work in the fields of criminal justice made a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. ... In tribute to his lifelong dedication as a mentor and wrestling coach always willing to help young people in need of guidance and structure in their lives, and as an expression of our great respect, admiration and sincere gratitude as we reflect on the life, courage and accomplishments of a beloved Marylander."

Pamela Featherstone received her husband's citation in a room at the State House. In an adjoining room, Ehrlich said, city and state officials were still trying to put the finishing touches on a deal that would bail out the financially ailing Baltimore school system.

"I'm just honored," Pamela Featherstone said of the citation. "The governor seems like a very personable man. I'm really impressed that he would do this, with all the things he has to do with the schools, that he would take time out of his busy schedule."

Yes, even as her husband was given a gubernatorial citation, the Baltimore school crisis was foremost in Pamela Featherstone's mind. Indeed, there was a touch of eerie irony in Jerome Featherstone Sr. receiving the honor in the State House on this day. Featherstone graduated from Mervo in 1979, at a time when Baltimore's public high schools still, across the board, put out good students.

Featherstone also wrestled at Mervo, twice placing third in the Maryland Scholastic Association tournament. It is said that he brought many young men -- even while he was in high school -- to the sport that may be the perfect one for teaching students about choices.

Every lad -- and these days, some lasses -- who has ever wrestled knows that a match is composed of three two-minute periods. At the start of the second period, a wrestler, in Featherstone's day, was given a choice to take either the up or down position. In a close match the choice would often determine victory or defeat.

Featherstone applied that principle to his life. He saw how his brother James made the wrong choices, hung out with the wrong crowd and ended up serving a life sentence for the 1979 murder of a Johns Hopkins medical student.

But Jerome Featherstone made other choices: He joined the Marines, got a job in law enforcement, built a house in Harford County and continued to mentor youngsters from his boyhood East Baltimore community.

Those city and state officials wrangling over the bailout for Baltimore's schools have some choices to make too, as do parents, teachers and everybody with a stake in seeing that 91,000 students don't pay for the sins of their elders. Apparently, some folks are already making the wrong choices.

On the same day that Featherstone was awarded the citation, a radio commercial paid for by the Baltimore Teachers Union blasted over the airwaves, trying to make Ehrlich the villain in this process. Ehrlich's plan is wrong, the ad said. It's the BTU and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley who have the correct plan for ending the crisis.

Choosing to go partisan on this issue is not something the BTU wants to do. Baltimore schools have been run by Democrats -- and only Democrats -- for years. Teachers unions traditionally support Democrats.

Trying to blame a Republican governor for the current crisis won't wash with the folks out in Garrett and Allegany counties and on the Eastern Shore, who had nothing to do with the crisis and who are being told, not asked, by the BTU and O'Malley that they have to come across with the cash to fix it.

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