Getting their game plan together for opening day

Howard schools are ready to tackle new year as classes start tomorrow

August 27, 2006|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun reporter

Melissa Peyton, a gifted and talented teacher at Running Brook Elementary School, was filled with a mix of nervous energy and anticipation as she stood in her classroom, flipping through some textbooks and savoring her last moments of summer.

"It's an exciting time of year," Peyton said Friday morning. "The excitement started a month ago when the principal sent me a thank you letter from a parent."

The school year begins tomorrow with 48,360 students, 4,300 teachers and new policies regarding student behavior, including anti-bullying regulations. The school board could also have a different look after the November elections as it increases from five to seven members.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said he has been impressed by the level of excitement and enthusiasm expressed by parents, students and staff.

"Everything I've heard has been very upbeat," said Cousin, who will visit a handful of schools tomorrow with County Executive James N. Robey. When students and staff enter the system's 71 schools - including newly opened Dayton Oaks Elementary - many will see new and revamped structures.

"It's amazing," Peyton said of the facelift at Running Brook, where she has taught for eight years. "The kids will take pride in the building."

This summer, the school went through the second half of a systemic renovation plan that replaced ventilation and air ducts, rewired electrical systems and refreshed furnishings and fixtures. In addition, the school's hallways received a fresh coat of paint and a blue metal archway was added near the building's entrance.

"It's improved our instruction spaces so we will be able to provide a better quality education," said Lisa Booth, who begins her fourth year as principal at Running Brook.

Similar projects took place at Centennial Lane, Guilford and Lisbon elementary schools. Other renovations and additions took place at Howard High School and at Bushy Park and Triadelphia Ridge elementaries. Work is also in progress on an elementary school in Ellicott City that is scheduled to open next August.

Students, parents and system employees will be faced with myriad changes - both to facilities and policies - this year.

In keeping with the school system's goal of providing a safe and nurturing environment, students will be expected to adhere to a strengthened anti-bullying policy.

In May, the school board adopted a policy that groups bullying, harassment and intimidation into a category of punishable behaviors and makes them grounds for expulsion.

Students won't be the only ones expected to be on good behavior.

The school system is in the process of adopting a civility policy that pertains to students, parents and system employees.

The policy, which is scheduled to be adopted next month, will cover language, actions, voice volume during conversations, and appropriate telephone and e-mail language and behavior at school sites and school-related events.

Although the policy does not list specific consequences for violations, conflicting parties will be encouraged to participate in mediation to resolve disputes.

School board Chairman Joshua Kaufman said the civility and anti-bullying policies would help foster learning that is more effective.

"We have to make sure that school is an environment that they can learn in," Kaufman said.

School system officials also want to build on the recent successes of state assessment scores. The system's high school scores increased in algebra, biology and government. And only three of 56 elementary and middle schools missed making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, by a total of 16 pupils.

Kaufman said assessment scores would be a continuing focus of the school system.

"We have to make sure that all of our schools have the tools to make AYP," he said. "Every year the standards are harder because the targets are increased."

While assessment scores are important, Cousin said the main goal of the school system would be to prepare students for life after high school.

"We want to make sure that our high school diploma carries some meaning with it as well," Cousin said. "We want to pay individual attention to students."

One of the ways the system hopes to help more students is through its new $2.7 million Automotive Technology Laboratory, located in the Applications and Research Laboratory in Ellicott City.

About 100 students are registered for the class, which will allow them easier access into post-secondary programs at the Community College of Baltimore County and Montgomery College.

Students will feel a slight pinch in their pockets as school lunches increase by 50 cents for secondary school students and 25 cents for elementary pupils.

The increase, which has been attributed to increases in salaries, health insurance, fuel and milk costs, will make the average price of a secondary-level lunch $2.50. It will cost $2 at the elementary level.

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