Educators relish a year of fewer headlines, more progress



It seemed that Howard County public schools - for a stretch last spring - made headlines weekly for yet another report of misconduct or unseemly behavior.

Three teachers were arrested during a two-month period starting in January for sexual abuse related to charges involving minors. A fourth teacher was arrested for having cocaine in his car, which was parked in a school parking lot.

It didn't seem that things could get much worse. They did. During the last week of school, a student at Hammond High School brought a loaded gun to building.

A year later, the teachers in the incidents have been fired and their cases adjudicated. And the student at Hammond also has gone to juvenile court.

What a difference a year makes - or does it?

As the school year wound down last week, Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin looked back and concluded that the 2007-2008 academic year had been a good one overall.

"Our students continue to make progress," Cousin said. "The school system continues to move forward in a positive direction.

"When we have 8,000 employees and nearly 49,000 students to deal with, this is an extensive operation we have to maintain, there are going to be some bumps in the road."

Many top ranking school system officials concurred that their focus was on different things this year compared with last. Cousin and school board members Diane Mikulis and Ellen Flynn Giles agree that the major challenges this year have been fiscal.

One of the biggest challenges for Mikulis was the renovation plan at Mount Hebron High. The school has been the source of frustration for top system officials as a renovation plan has been debated for two years. In April, the school board approved a $57 million construction plan to expand and renovate the school.

"It was even more intense this year," she said. "That took up a lot of time."

Mikulis also said the budget was tougher this year because it was larger. In May, the board unanimously approved a record combined $737.5 million for capital and operating budgets.

Cousin was grateful for the collaborative relationship between the school system and the community.

"The positive far outweighs the negative by a far margin," Cousin said. "We are blessed with a community that supports the school, and politicians that supports the schools. Support makes a big difference."

Giles said she has faith that the school system will be able to adjust to the whatever economic challenges lay ahead.

"I think we have challenges, but I think we have a good team," Giles said. "We're able to work well together. I found this to be a productive year."

Game with a twist

The annual end-of-the-school-year kickball showdown that pits fifth-graders against staff at Waterloo Elementary is a tradition that gets the competitive juices flowing. This year was no different.

The staff, which has lost once in the history of the game, according to one veteran teacher, took on the entire fifth-grade and perpetuated its traditional dominance Thursday, posting a 27-19 victory.

"It's one of the highlights for fifth grade to end the school year," said Meggen Calderwood, a fifth-grade team leader at the Columbia school. "They all know that this is the thing they get at the end of the year."

This year, the game featured a twist: Before each inning, the teachers had to spin a wheel before each inning that dictated a rule adjustment. For example, one of the spot on the wheel called for staff members to kick with their opposite foot. Another mandated staff members to play with half their roster.

"We really put it together this year," Calderwood said. "It was tough. We were so lucky."

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