In its latest report card, NAACP finds some schools in the county are lacking

education notebook


While the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says a number of Howard County schools are at the head of the class when it comes to African-American student performance in certain areas, the group's latest report shows that many still have work to do.

Overall, 49 schools in the system received at least one "A" in the 2005 report card by the civil rights organization's Howard County branch.

But 36 of the 67 schools evaluated received an "F" in at least one category.

"Even though we have improved greatly, we still have a long way to go," said Natalie W. Woodson, chairwoman of the NAACP Howard branch's education committee.

Only one high school of the system's 11 -- River Hill -- did not receive at an "F" from the organization in at least one category.

The 2005 report card focuses on attendance, graduation rates, dropout rates, suspensions, Maryland State Assessment scores in reading and math, and High School Assessment scores in English, biology, government and algebra.

"We are striving for excellence in all areas," said Woodson.

Minority achievement, particularly that of African-Americans, has been a source of concern for the system.

"This report card is something board members look at closely," said school board Chairman Joshua Kaufman.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin has said repeatedly that the system is working hard to address student achievement, especially among underperforming groups.

African-American students have the second-highest dropout rate and second-lowest graduation rate in the county, according to 2005 statistics by the Maryland State Department of Education. African-American students also have the lowest passing percentage of all ethnic groups in the English, mathematics and algebra components of the HSAs.

Performance on the HSAs, which will be a graduation requirement for current freshman, also was a source of concern for Woodson. Only one school -- River Hill High -- received an "A" from the NAACP on any of the four components of the HSA.

"Unfortunately, we did not see the full progress we hoped for with the HSAs," Woodson said.

Schools earning "A's" will receive awards from the organization at a later date, Woodson said.

"We are applauding the achievement," Woodson said. "All of us know that we have to work to continue it and improve."

School board hopeful

Carmen Harmon, 39, the daughter of a Spanish mother and an African-American father, says she will bring that mixed heritage to the school board if elected in November.

"I believe my background gives me good insight," said Harmon, a mother of two and a former foreign-language teacher in the Montgomery County school system. "I grew up with two languages."

Raised in Baltimore, Harmon earned a bachelor's degree in modern language and linguistics from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 1991. She earned a master's degree in administration supervision from Bowie State University in 2001.

Harmon will run under the slogan: "Sustain, strengthen, support and serve the children in the community."

She said she believes in increasing teacher pay, improving communication between the system and the community -- in particular the Spanish-speaking community -- improving test scores among underperforming students and holding administrators more accountable for student achievement. She also is a proponent of offering students more physical education and after-school activities.

Harmon also wants to see growth addressed in the Elkridge area.

"Rockburn and Elkridge [elementary schools] are almost to capacity," she said. "The area has huge development. We need an additional school, possibly another high school."

Besides raising her two children -- an 11-month-old and a 3-year-old -- she is a member of the MOMS Club of Ellicott City and a volunteer emergency medical service worker with the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services.

"I'm up for the challenge," Harmon said from her Elkridge home. "I believe my life revolves around my planning and scheduling. I can balance. As a teacher, I had to juggle many different duties. I think this will be the same, juggling my personal life with my professional life."

Teen candidate

Di Zou, 17, a senior at Glenelg High School, would make history in November if he is elected as the youngest member of the Howard County Board of Education.

The Glenwood resident said he does not want to make age an issue in this election.

"But I am a member of the school system right now," he said. "I know a little better how the students think."

Zou said he decided to run for the board after he learned that he was too young to run for County Council, which requires candidates to be 21. A school board seat requires that a candidate be a registered voter, according to Zou. Even though he is not 18, his birthday falls before the November election, making him eligible to register and to run for the board.

"I wanted to do something," he said. "I wanted to have a bigger impact on what the system does."

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