Maxwell's demand

January 29, 2007

Something had to give.

For the fourth year in a row, test scores for Annapolis High School failed to meet state and federal standards, leaving the school vulnerable to state intervention next year. Despite the success of a new International Baccalaureate program, a core group of other students continued to do poorly. And the graduation rate for African-American males remained a dismal 50 percent. Anne Arundel County Superintendent Kevin Maxwell stepped into the breach in a big way - and for the right reasons.

His demand that the entire staff, from the principal to the cafeteria workers, reapply for their jobs should usher in staffing and program changes necessary to halt the downward slide. What's most in need at the school is a change in attitude, by students and anyone else who can't envision progress for the school. Expectations of students - all students - should be high.

Since fall 2005, the Anne Arundel school system has been laboring to reduce the achievement gap between white and minority students under an agreement with the federal Office of Civil Rights. Annapolis High was a focus of the problem, and it had suffered as well from the stormy tenure of a previous principal and fights between rival student groups.

Some teachers and others have complained about the drastic nature of Mr. Maxwell's move, but the issues at the school demanded substantive action. Local superintendents and school boards should be the ones responsible for improving their schools - and held accountable for their performance. But this is not their job alone.

Parents have to be involved in their children's education. Those students who lack this support should receive it from their school within means. Annapolis High had taken steps to reach its troubled students, offering weekend tutoring and other programs. Extending teacher contracts to 12 months and lengthening the school day are under consideration as ways to keep underperformers engaged and in school.

A staff overhaul at Annapolis High may be the first step toward improving academic achievement among black and Latino students, but students themselves have to decide that they don't want to be left behind.

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