Board shuns expansion bid

School officials to debut Middle Years program with 100 pupils

October 13, 2006|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,sun reporter

The Anne Arundel County board of education is sticking with its plan to launch the Middle Years program for only 100 pupils at Annapolis, MacArthur and Old Mill North next fall, hesitating to support two proposals to later offer it to the schools' entire populations.

Board members said that they'd rather wait to consider expanding the program -- a precursor to the rigorous high school International Baccalaureate classes --until after a policy on magnet schools is developed and a "middle school summit" is held later this month.

"Are we putting the cart before the horse?" said board member Ned Carey as the board Wednesday considered the superintendent's proposals.

In June, the school board adjusted its budget to include $145,800 for teacher training and planning for the Middle Years program at the three schools, after funding was cut three years in a row.

As it now stands, fifth-graders from around the county will be able to apply for the 100 slots at each school, similar to the way the I.B. diploma program operates at Annapolis High and Old Mill High School in Millersville.

The International Baccalaureate program at Meade High School on Fort Meade is only open to students in that feeder system.

At Wednesday's board meeting, Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and school system staff members suggested two ways to widen participation in Middle Years.

In one option, each of the three schools would offer the program to the entire school and would allow for 100 pupils from outside the school's attendance area to attend also. Those 100 pupils would be integrated with the rest of the student body.

The other option would keep those 100 pupils separate from the regular population, creating a "school within a school," which Carey and student board member Brittany Walker said could be construed as elitist.

Maxwell advocated for keeping the pupils apart.

"I believe [it] will attract more students from outside the area," he said. "I believe it will be more attractive for some parents."

Even under those two plans, only 100 pupils would start the program at each school next fall. The board could still decide to expand Middle Years later and several board members said they support the idea.

The Middle Years program is unlike the college preparatory curriculum. Instead, Middle Years is a teaching method, rather than different classes. So, according to school system officials, pupils would not have problems transferring in or out of the program because they'd be taking the same courses as other county pupils.

"We hope that this methodology would help struggling students grasp the curriculum," IB Director Christine Amiss said.

But board Vice President Eugene Peterson later pointed out that Middle Years may not be right for every pupil.

"There is no magic answer," Peterson said. "Parents want options."

Other board members said they want public input on the Middle Years "whole-school" options. Some said they remain wary of continuing to expand the county's magnet programs without having a magnet school policy in place -- an issue that was brought up when the board voted last December on placing the I.B. program at Meade High School.

Maxwell said that he and his staff are working on a proposal for a magnet policy and an implementation plan. That likely will include options for some magnets, consortiums and what he called "signature schools."

But before that is presented, the Middle School Summit, scheduled for Oct. 28 at Brooklyn Park Middle School, is being billed as part of an effort to improve student achievement among middle schoolers.

Once those two things happen, some board members said, they will be able to make decisions regarding the Middle Years program.

"I believe we need to get this is in order," said board President Tricia Johnson. "We can't vote piecemeal."

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