School board debates budget

Funds sought for special programs

September 23, 2005|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

Valerie Lewis went to the Anne Arundel County school board with a desperate plea.

Her son, Curtis Lewis, an eighth-grader, has attended eight schools since 2000. To participate in special education programs in Anne Arundel he had to be labeled "emotionally disturbed," a designation that doesn't fit him, his mother says, because he mostly has behavioral problems.

This year, he was found not to fit the designation and was placed in regular classes in Arundel Middle School. After a week, he was suspended, she said.

Lewis is convinced that with stronger alternative education programs, including small classes with highly structured teaching and disciplinary methods common in many school districts, her son would be better served. She took that case to the Anne Arundel County school board Wednesday night to plead for more funding and attention for alternative education programs as the board begins its fiscal 2007 budget process.

About a dozen others also came spoke before the board about the need for alternative education reforms, and Superintendent Eric J. Smith agreed to put the item on the agenda for the next board meeting.

The board spent more than an hour debating whether and how to accommodate the growth of the International Baccalaureate program, a rigorous curriculum similar to Advanced Placement courses that is recognized around the world. Representatives from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education made a presentation on the selection process for a new schools chief, after Smith announced earlier this month that he would leave Anne Arundel in November for a position at Harvard University.

Christine Amiss, Anne Arundel's International Baccalaureate coordinator, presented a plan to expand the program to Meade High School, making it the third school after Old Mill and Annapolis high schools that would offer the curriculum. If the expansion is not approved, the schools will have to use a lottery system to determine who is accepted, Amiss said, and begin turning students away.

The board voted to table the proposal until its next meeting, Oct. 5.

Maryland Secretary of Business and Economic Development Aris Melissaratos and Fort Meade commander Col. Kenneth O. McCreedy urged board members to adopt the expansion. Thousands of workers relocating to Fort Meade because of the military base closings and realignments are more likely to live in Anne Arundel if such programs exist, both men said.

McCreedy said the IB program is attractive to military service members, whose children often attend more than one high school, because they can have the same curriculum wherever they go.

Board members had numerous questions about the expansion, including whether the money would be better spent on creating a math, science and technology magnet school or on programs to improve the achievement of low-performing students.

Several board members also entertained the idea of making IB coursework available at all the high schools. Board member Eugene Peterson said he wanted to see a strategic plan for high-performing programs throughout the system that would address the board's goals for IB, math and science magnet schools and other programs.

Smith, who several times urged board members to approve the expansion, said after the meeting that such a strategic plan for advanced education is in effect.

After his first year he presented a strategic plan for developing the program that would use three high schools and establish two middle schools and an unspecified number of elementary schools as a feeder system for the program.

In last year's budgeting process, the board scrapped plans to fund the program at the middle school level, and Smith said after the meeting that he hoped this expansion would pass, saying obstacles to its growth have been frustrating.

"We have board-adopted goals, we have a clear strategic plan and we have sequentially requested funding to implement that strategic plan," he said. "The bigger issue is that we've got kids that are stepping up to this challenge" whom the system won't be able to accommodate.

Smith, noting public disputes with the school board, said two weeks ago that he would leave his position Nov. 23 to work for the Urban Superintendents' Academy at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education from his home in Annapolis.

The board has yet to name an interim superintendent, but Tricia Johnson, vice president of the board, has said it plans to name one as soon as possible.

Representatives of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education made a presentation about selecting a new superintendent, focusing on making the selection transparent while maintaining the confidentiality of those who apply.

One suggestion made by the group is to hold "stakeholder forums" with participants from all over the county, including staff, parents, elected officials, ethnic and civic associations, higher education and business representatives and students.

The selection process will take seven to eight months.

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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