New academic chief apt to set high standard

Balto. Co. schools hope to improve instruction

July 14, 2008|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

Patricia E. Abernethy, the newest chief academic officer for Baltimore County public schools, is described as a champion for children and an educator with an exceptional understanding of what it takes to boost academic achievement.

"She is very student-oriented," said Elizabeth Morgan, superintendent of Washington County public schools. "She really cares about kids and what's best for kids."

Abernethy, 61, who most recently served two years as deputy chief of staff for strategic planning and development for Baltimore City public schools, was named chief academic officer of Baltimore County public schools last week.

She takes over about three months after the system decided not to renew the contract of its first chief academic officer, Sonia Diaz, who served for a year.

County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston created the chief academic officer position in response to sweeping recommendations from an independent evaluation of the county school system's strategy for teaching youngsters. The review found significant shortcomings, including the lack of an administrative leader to oversee curriculum and instruction.

In a statement last week, Hairston said Abernethy was chosen for her "diversity of experience" and "depth of expertise" to help shape reforms for the system's nearly 105,000 students.

"Throughout her career, Dr. Abernethy has been committed, as Baltimore County Public Schools is, to the importance of educating all children well, to increasing academic rigor, and to the strategic use of professional development to improve the quality of instruction," he said.

Abernethy said she applied for the county's chief academic officer position after deciding she would like to work for Hairston. She said she believes that under Hairston's leadership, the school system has set the right standards and is positioned to realize significant progress in the coming years in academic achievement.

She said she is regarded as a taskmaster with exacting standards, but one who is willing to toil in the trenches.

"People say I have high standards, but we only have one chance [to prepare students] and each chance we take, we have to make our best effort," she said. ""But whatever I ask them to do, I'm willing to do with them as well."

Abernethy began her teaching career in 1968 as a math and science instructor for sixth, seventh and eighth grade at Holy Cross School in Dover, Del. Over the years, she has held teaching and administrative positions at the elementary, middle and high school levels, including serving as principal for Holy Spirit Catholic School in Asbury Park, N.J., during the late 1970s.

She has a doctorate in educational psychology and research from Fordham University. She also has a master's degree in mathematics education and bachelor's degree in education, both from the University of Delaware.

Morgan, who previously was chief academic officer in Baltimore City schools, said Abernethy's expertise in analyzing data, including results of statewide assessments, to improve instruction made her a valuable resource for Washington County. The system in western Maryland has about 22,000 students, nearly 40 percent of whom qualify for free and reduced-price meals, an indication of a high level of poverty in the community.

Morgan said she credits Abernethy with helping to increase the number of students in Washington County taking Advanced Placement courses and boosting the system's performance on statewide exams, such as the High School Assessments.

During Abernethy's tenure from 2002 to 2006 as deputy superintendent for instruction in Washington County, the system's performance on HSA exams went from among the state's lowest 25 percent to the top 25 percent, Morgan said. Last year, the county had the state's highest percent of students passing the algebra HSA, she said.

In addition, Abernethy installed "student achievement specialists" in each school to help teachers and administrators crunch data to figure out what's working and which changes may be necessary to improve student performance.

"She didn't do this alone; we've done this as a team," Morgan said. "But she was responsible for creating the infrastructure for these things to happen. ... She brought really strong academics, competent leadership and the guts to stand her grounds on standards."

Academic officer

Patricia E. Abernethy

Age: : 61

Residence: : Ellicott City

In the News: : Appointed chief academic officer for the Baltimore County school system

Education: : Doctorate in education psychology and research from Fordham University; master's degree in mathematics education and bachelor's degree in education, both from the University of Delaware

Professional: : Deputy chief of staff for strategic planning and accountability, Baltimore City public schools (2006-2008); deputy superintendent for instruction, Washington County public schools (2002-2006); curriculum and instruction officer/area executive officer, Baltimore City public schools (1998-2002); executive administrator, CIENJ (Total Quality Management in Education)/Continuous Improvement of Education, New Jersey (1994-1998); superintendent of schools, Burlington City (N.J.) public schools, (1991-1994); director of testing/research/program evaluation, Cherry Hill (N.J.) public schools (1988-1991); principal, assistant principal and teacher at elementary, middle and high school levels, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland (1968-1988)

Source: Baltimore County Public Schools

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