School start offers hope

Community aims to put controversies to rest

`It's a new ... beginning'

47,719 students to include all-day kindergartners

Howard County

August 30, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials, parents and students have high hopes for the 2004-2005 academic year after scandals overshadowed the academic achievements of one of the state's highest-performing school districts.

About 47,719 students are expected to report today for the first day of school, including about 460 kindergartners who will be attending full-day classes for the first time.

"It's always a highlight of the year - the first day of school," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "I always like to see kindergartners come to school for the first time and see the bright faces and the potential they have."

Cousin added: "It's a new day and a new beginning. It's also a renewing of the reasons why we're in the business to begin with."

A fresh start is exactly what the county has in mind as it leaves behind a series of image-battering incidents: a grade-changing controversy at Oakland Mills High School involving a popular football coach; accusations that two top county school administrators abused their power by pressing for a grade change at Centennial High School; the forced resignation of Superintendent John R. O'Rourke; and false rape allegations at Mount Hebron High School.

Cousin, who took over for O'Rourke as the interim school chief in March, was hired as the permanent superintendent last month to bring stability and strong leadership to the school system.

"What I hope is that with the all the changes within the various high schools, things will calm down and we'll get back to the mission at hand, which is education of our students," said Angela Ballard-Landers, president of the River Hill High School's Parent Teacher Student Association.

"I hope the past is history, and we'll start the healing process and move forward," Ballard-Landers said.

The school system has a number of goals this year, including an ambitious target to bring test scores up to state standards by next year and eliminate the achievement gap among races by 2007, ahead of the 2014 deadline set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"This is the first year we'll be able to hold ourselves accountable to that," said school board member Joshua Kaufman.

Full-day kindergarten

Another initiative is the first-year implementation of full-day kindergarten at six of the county's 37 elementary schools - Bryant Woods, Laurel Woods, Phelps Luck, Running Brook, Stevens Forest and Talbott Springs - and Cradlerock, a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school.

"We're starting something that's special and will have a dramatic impact on a lot of children, especially those who need the most help," Kaufman said.

New principals

Common with a new year, 14 principals will move to new schools this year, including at Centennial and Oakland Mills high schools.

Cousin tapped Scott Pfeifer, the only principal River Hill has had, to lead Centennial. William Ryan, a former principal at High Point High School in Prince George's County, takes over at River Hill.

Frank Eastham, former principal at Homewood School, replaces Marshall Peterson at Oakland Mills. Peterson, who requested the move, takes over at Homewood School, an alternative learning center.

Centennial senior Jeff Amoros said he's looking forward to the new year, preparing for college and a life beyond Howard County.

"I'm pumped to be a senior," said Amoros, the student member of the school board.

Amoros said he wants to enjoy every moment as a senior. "I saw that with a lot of my friends who were seniors," he said. "They started school, and then they turned around and it was prom."

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