Hairston challenges schools to meet future

August 19, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

The superintendent of Baltimore County's public schools told principals and other educators that they must prime students to be creative and innovative so they are able to assume jobs that have not yet been created.

"It's on our watch to prepare young people who will solve all the problems we have not yet solved," Joe A. Hairston said yesterday during his annual back-to-school address to administrators, where he also outlined priorities for the coming school year.

The schools chief had assigned summer reading to his staff -- Future Shock by Alvin Toffler, a best-seller first published in the 1970s.

In the book, the author suggested that people can prepare for and shape change "if we can envision it," Hairston said. "My question for all of us is: Do we have the spirit to imagine and change the future?"

Educators need to believe that every child is capable of learning if they are to take the actions necessary to prepare them for their future. "Public education is as much about belief as it is about knowledge and data," Hairston said.

Today's students will need better math, science and communications skills to remain competitive in a global economy, he said. To support that need, the county school system is expanding technology education and creating international partnerships. For example, school officials are researching overseas student exchange programs.

Although the superintendent estimated that about 60 percent of Baltimore County students are doing well, more focus is needed on the remaining 40 percent.

Some people may have said county students' performance on the state's English test for high school sophomores in 2005 was a "red flag," he said. About half of the 7,766 students who took the test passed it, according to state data.

Sophomores this fall will have to pass this test and three other exit exams to graduate as part of the state's requirements.

Yesterday's meeting of administrators and supervisors was one of the many activities this month to gear up for the start of school Aug. 28. About 700 teachers new to the county school system attended curriculum workshops and other programs this week at Randallstown High School.

At one session Thursday afternoon, secondary English teachers talked about strategies for Back-to-School Night. In another room, middle and high school algebra teachers discussed hands-on activities to demonstrate and review math concepts that might help students who learn differently "form a memory," a resource teacher explained.

Gina Williams, who will teach fourth-graders at Dogwood Elementary this year, said she and her counterparts weren't worried about the content they'll be delivering to children.

"We've all got that in our backgrounds," she said.

Instead, she and fellow new teacher Elizabeth Golob were more concerned about setting the right tone for the school year -- "how to say hello in that firm but friendly manner," Golob said.

After all, "you only get the first day once," Williams said.

liz.kay@baltsun.com

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