Hairston tells school leaders to `think big'

Balto. Co. superintendent gives start-of-year speech

August 21, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston called on the district's administrators yesterday to "think big" as they work to raise student performance amid rapid demographic changes.

In his annual back-to-school address before an audience of about 700 at Loch Raven High School, Hairston outlined priorities for the school year on such topics as test scores and technology. But the speech was largely a pep talk for the many principals and other administrators in the auditorium, as the superintendent praised their accomplishments and urged them to set their sights higher.

"I would submit to each of you that now is the time to take the next step, to go from being a good leader to being a great one," he said. "It's time to expand our horizons, both as individuals within our school system and as a school system itself."

Hairston said his priorities for the school year include raising students' scores on the High School Assessments, which they will eventually need to pass to graduate, and on the SAT. He wants to research the most effective strategies to close a persistent achievement gap between white and black students.

A major goal is recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers, and getting the most experienced and talented educators into the neediest schools. Other goals are analyzing and addressing the causes of suspensions and expulsions, and increasing the use of technology in schools.

Hairston said the district will continue implementing reforms recommended by a middle school task force, such as matching every middle school pupil with an adult mentor.

Finally, Hairston said, he wants to do a better job of "letting the public know about the good things that are happening."

Despite the list of goals, much of the speech was conceptual and reflective - characteristic Hairston - as he marks the beginning of his second four-year contract in Baltimore County.

In urging administrators to go beyond his stated priorities, Hairston quoted Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson and poet Kahlil Gibran, among others. The title of the speech was "Seismic Thinking: Moving Forward With Confidence."

Since he took the helm four years ago, Hairston said, the school district's minority enrollment has increased from 39,000 to 48,000 students, while the combined SAT score rose from 997 to 1034.

County schools are scheduled to open Aug. 30 with an enrollment of more than 109,000.

"We in Baltimore County are no longer satisfied with the status quo when it comes to a new school year," Hairston said. "Those of us who hold the futures of children in our hands should always view the routine - in whatever form it takes - with suspicion."

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