School hopefuls doubt reforms

Board of Education candidates speak at forum

3 of 4 critical of Smith

Governor to appoint member to at-large seat

Anne Arundel

April 15, 2004|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Several candidates for the Anne Arundel County school board expressed doubt last night about the system's newly standardized curricula and school schedules - two reforms that Superintendent Eric J. Smith said were needed to improve student performance.

Fielding questions from a group of 70 church and civic group representatives, three of the four candidates for one pending vacancy were occasionally critical of Smith's leadership.

Pamela K. Bukowski, a mother of six and a regular volunteer in Annapolis schools, called the new four-period block schedules in secondary schools "very detrimental" to students.

Severna Park attorney Michael G. Leahy took a shot at the uniform math and reading curricula rolled out last fall to the county's elementary schools, saying they have helped struggling pupils make "great strides," but that "test scores are actually lower" at traditionally high-achieving schools.

Retired county teacher George R. Schmidt argued for the return of creativity into the county's schools, saying there was too much emphasis on testing.

But the fourth candidate, Jacqueline Boone Allsup, an assistant nursing professor at Anne Arundel Community College, said she was in favor of a uniform curriculum because it could provide consistency across county schools, which rank among the best and worst in the state.

The candidates' comments came during a forum at Severna Park High School held by the county's school board nominating convention.

The convention will hold a final hearing next week and vote May 4 to select two candidates whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - who is not bound by the nominations in making the appointment. The new member will fill the at-large seat of board Vice President Anthony Spencer, whose five-year term expires in June.

Allsup, 56, has previously sought political offices, making unsuccessful bids for the House of Delegates in 1998 and the Orphans' Court in 2002. The grandmother of three county pupils said those campaign experiences would help her on the school board.

"Having been around the county and listened to people about the issues or problems they have with schools, I thought I could be an asset to the school board," Allsup said in an interview before the session.

The Glen Burnie resident said she is concerned about testing data that show the average performance of minority, disabled and poor students lags behind that of white students.

Bukowski, 53, a substitute teacher in Anne Arundel and former speech pathologist, said she has toyed with the idea of running for the school board for nine years. She was prompted to run now, she said, in part because of the recent controversy over Annapolis High School Principal Deborah Williams, who was ousted last month after sparking a revolt among some teachers and parents.

"It goes back to a lack of response from the Board of Education," Bukowski said before the session. "It appeared that people weren't being listened to who had legitimate complaints."

Bukowski said she would strive as a school board member to make sure constituents feel their concerns are heard. She also is interested in shifting high school start times to a later hour, and questions some of Smith's initiatives, including the secondary school schedules and the enrollment of larger numbers of students in college-level classes.

Leahy, 49, a father of two county pupils, is seeking a school board appointment for the second time in two years. He said his experience as a lawyer and former banker in dealing with large financial transactions would assist the school board in decision-making during difficult fiscal times.

One of his priorities as a board member would be to address school construction needs and what he feels is an inadequate supply of classroom materials. "I believe it is criminal that many teachers dig deep into their own pockets to provide their students with school supplies," he wrote in his candidate statement.

Schmidt, 64, who worked in Anne Arundel schools for more than 37 years, said he is troubled by what he considers a rise in standardization and a suppression of creativity. "You've got to humanize the learning environment," he said in an interview. "You can over-standardize, you can over-regulate people."

The Severna Park resident works part time in the county state's attorney's office on serious traffic cases, and earned a doctorate in education in 1990 from the University of Maryland after writing a dissertation on Anne Arundel schools.

Schmidt wrote in his candidate statement that he would support programs that "help students learn how to become socially responsible ... productive and healthy and happy citizens."

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