Frisch said he heard the number of miles driven each day by Harford buses is more than the circumference of the earth, which is about 25,000 miles.

Board member Arthur Kaff said he is worried about how the federal sequestration could affect the board's budget.

"I think the federal government is going through some serious issues right now, and I do hope the president and Congress will be able to work something out," he said.

Common Core

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A panel of educators led a presentation on how the school system will be transitioning to Common Core standards, which is a new state mandate.

They explained "pathways" to Common Core include instructional shifts and changes in rigor or pedagogy.

In math, for example, the goal in Common Core is to teach students to persevere in problem-solving, reason abstractly, construct arguments, model with math, use tools strategically, attend to precision, look for and use structure and use repeated reasoning to draw conclusions from patterns.

Another focus is to link ideas from grade level to grade level and, in English classes, to offer a range of text complexity.

For example, in a third-grade class, students might have the option of reading "Henry and Mudge" (the least complex book), "Sarah, Plain and Tall" or "The Odyssey."

Marlene Molter, principal of C. Milton Wright High School, also said Advanced Placement teachers have been sending students to be writing consultants for other students, which has helped develop the value of writing. She said she wants to create a better springboard for Common Core state standards.

School board member Nancy Reynolds, a former teacher, said she was especially glad to hear about the C. Milton Wright program, adding, "Having students teach other students is the best way."

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick said this was the first presentation he saw on the project that "really had a rubber-meets-the-road feel to it."

"It looks good, to be honest with you," he said.

Superintendent Robert Tomback said he believes the diagnostic will be extremely valuable to classroom teachers and will give a "much better picture" of the extent to which students have mastered content.

Board member James Thornton asked whether this would be considered the first or second "sea change" for a student going from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Sarah Morris, superintendent of mathematics, replied she believes it would be the one change for them.

"We haven't had MSPAP as our assessment for several years now," she said, of the former statewide student achievement program replaced by the Maryland Scholastic Assessments. "This would be, we hope, once in their lifetime."

Board President Rick Grambo said he is "not necessarily sold" on the Common Core but believes the panel will maximize its potential.

The board also heard a presentation from the Greater Excellence in Education Foundation, or GEEF, a private group that runs programs such as gathering supplies for school and holding a summer Youth Leadership Academy at Harford Glen.

Warren Hamilton, representing the group, said the academy includes having students create a vision for their lives.

"We see a lot of NFL players and rock stars, but we also see scientists, nurses and doctors," said Hamilton, a longtime construction company executive and a member of the Harford County Board of Estimates.