Haas says new progress needs sustained support

Full funding credited in academic, staff gains

Education Beat

October 02, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

County schools Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas noted increased test scores and teacher quality in her annual "state of system" presentation to the school board Tuesday night, while warning that the burgeoning system will need consistent support if it is to continue moving forward.

For the first time in more than 30 years, Harford County Public Schools received full funding, resulting in more than 160 new teachers, many of whom were more highly qualified than those they replaced. And test scores were up nearly across the board at the elementary, middle and high school level, Haas said.

But in congratulating the schools' staff members for their work under challenging circumstances -- perhaps motivated by the recent problems with contaminated water at North Harford Middle School that have drawn the ire of parents there -- Haas reminded the board that funding historically has been "bare bones."

"We had a great year this past year, but that will only go so far," she told the board.

Haas made only brief references to the impending countywide redistricting, which has lingered over recent board meetings as preparations gear up.

About 1,600 students will need to be shuffled to fill the Patterson Mill middle and high school complex when it opens in 2007, and four town hall-style meetings are planned for the end of the month for parents to air their concerns.

Board member Mark M. Wolkow said he has been troubled by early comments from parents, some of whom said they didn't want their children going to school with children from other neighborhoods.

"This does not bode well for our redistricting process," Wolkow said. "We're going to do what's best for the community, not just best for one."

But Haas previewed another impending headache: the potential impact on county schools from the base realignment and closure plan, which is expected to bring thousands of jobs to the county in coming years.

Haas said the most conservative estimates suggest 5,000 new students could enter the school system, with military officials putting the figure as high as 12,500.

The latter figure, if true, would bump the school's enrollment by nearly a third.

"Even if you use our figures, we could have huge numbers of kids coming into our system," Haas said.

School buses, already running late because of increasing traffic on major roads, would be strained by the influx, Haas said. School start times have been adjusted at a handful of schools, but "that's only putting a Band-Aid on it," Haas said. "The problem is more systematic."

County departments this week began the early stages of preparing for next year's budget. Several calls to County Executive David R. Craig for comment on the budget outlook were not returned.

The majority of Haas' presentation, however, focused on issues in the classroom. Numbers were broken down into subcategories and juxtaposed with data from past years, a data-driven approach the system has undertaken in recent years to better assess performance.

With increased funding -- the county's $187 million contribution was $30 million more than the previous year -- has come an increase in teacher quality, she said. Last year, nearly 20 percent of the county's teachers were not considered highly qualified -- a figure which dropped to 10 percent this year.

Test scores continued to climb, though their superiority over the state average narrowed.

Fifth-graders scored 6.4 points higher than the state average this year after scoring 11.4 points above the state average in 2004. Eighth-grade pupils, who scored 10 points higher than the state average in 2003, scored 1.9 points higher this year.

Harford's middle schools remain the lowest-performing of the three levels. Edgewood and Aberdeen failed to meet standards of the No Child Left Behind law last year, because either low-income or special education students did not pass the tests.

Board member Salina M. Williams said she was concerned about the performance of black students, particularly at the middle school level. Although the number of black middle school pupils proficient in reading and mathematics increased from 2003 to 2005, 33.2 percent were proficient in math last year and 57.3 percent were proficient in reading.

About 83 percent of black students graduated in 2005, 6 percent below the overall county average

Aside from schools that receive federal funding, Haas said, the county is woefully structured to offer academic intervention programs to students in need.

At the high school level, Harford Technical was the most notable success story, bumping its SAT scores about 20 points on the verbal and reading portions. Students at Harford Tech scoring a 3 or higher on Advanced Placement exams doubled.

"We have students that are dedicated and committed to succeeding in their chosen areas," said Principal Charles Hagan. "Kids come here and they want to be here."

C. Milton Wright and Edgewood were the only high schools to experience drops in either portion.

Harford's average Maryland Student Assessment scores continued to climb among third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, with third-graders leading the way.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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