`This is the ideal,' Spellings says of Guilford Elementary

EDUCATION NOTEBOOK

Education Beat

December 18, 2005|By JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV

Guilford Elementary School swarmed with national media, high-ranking government officials and even a few security officers last week -- and that was a good thing.

The school provided the stage for U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings to unveil a proposal that would allow some learning-disabled students take modified assessment tests under the federal No Child Left Behind law, flexibility that school districts nationwide have been seeking.

And Guilford Elementary was chosen for the spotlight because of the progress special-education pupils at the Columbia school have made recently.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, on hand for the event Wednesday, said the percentage of third-graders with learning disabilities who met state standards on the reading test increased to 62.5 percent in 2005 from 12.5 percent in 2003.

"That is remarkable," Grasmick said.

During her visit, Spellings toured the school for about 20 minutes, meeting with pupils in Tammy Hampshire's third-grade class and Rebecca Schwartz's fourth-grade class.

"This is the ideal," Spellings said of the school. "This is what real education looks like."

Schwartz, who teaches an inclusion class of regular and special-education pupils, said it was an honor to have Spellings visit and observe the lesson about converting fractions into mixed numbers. Schwartz said her pupils were a bit overwhelmed by Spellings and by the media representatives who accompanied her.

"They were a little nervous with all the cameras," Schwartz said. "But they did a great job. I was really proud of them."

Spellings had nothing but praise for the work she observed at Guilford.

"This is a school that is getting the job done," she said. "That's not an accident. That's a heck of a lot of fine work."

Genee Varlack, who has been principal at Guilford for two years after working as the school's vice principal for four years, said the key has been relationship building.

"We work with parents, we partner with parents," Varlack said. "It's intentionally done."

Varlack said the day went smoothly and that everything was business as usual.

"We added a few chairs," Varlack said. "We did what we always do."

And she said that while it was hard for the younger students to grasp the magnitude of the school's special guests, "they knew it was someone very big."

From Beijing

Eight educators from Beijing toured two Howard County schools this month in the latest round of visits between educators from both systems.

The group from Beijing, consisting of top administrators, a principal and a teacher, visited Long Reach High School and Mayfield Woods Middle School, met with Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and attended part of a school board meeting.

Long Reach students performed a musical selection and a tap and modern dance number for the delegation.

"The Chinese were very impressed," said Deborah Espitia, coordinator for world languages and English for speakers of other Languages. "They were interested in how we train our teachers and some of the extracurriculars we offer."

The visit followed a trip to China by Cousin last spring during which he established contacts with Chinese school districts. Long Reach Principal Edmund Evans said he plans to visit Number 22 High School Beijing -- a school of 2,400 students -- as the next step in the partnership between Howard County and the school system in Beijing.

Evans also looks forward to exchanges among teachers, administrators, students, athletic teams and music groups.

"I think we can learn from them and they can learn from us," Evans said.

Students at Long Reach were excited about the visitors -- especially three former ESOL students who served as interpreters and tour guides, Evans said.

"Anytime that we can connect with people from other countries and other cultures and learn from each other it will be a very positive thing," Espitia said. "We have a very strong Chinese community here in Howard County. It will be the chance to form a greater bond."

This is not the first time that Howard County has been host to international educators.

In September, a five-member delegation representing the Hexi school district from the northern Chinese city of Tianjin visited Howard County. Last December, a 15-member delegation representing several provinces in South Korea visited the county.

Espitia also said that Centennial High School has had a long partnership with a high school in Japan.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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