Harford's excellence in education receives many recognitions in 2016

In 2016, Harford County's highly rated school system extended a tradition of having its students do well, its faculty honored and its schools receive awards.

The 2016-17 school year delivered 2016's crowning achievements. In September, North Harford Elementary School in Pylesville, which had been named a Maryland Blue Ribbon School in May, was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, one of just 329 across the United States. Blue Ribbon status is awarded based on the school's overall standardized test scores, the level of academic achievement by low-income and special-needs students and parent involvement and community outreach programs.

Then in November, Thomas Dennison, a fifth-grade teacher at Havre de Grace Elementary School, was named a Milken Educator Award recipient. During a ceremony at the school, Dennison received the $25,000 the award carries, to use how he pleases. He was one of only 34 educators nationwide to receive the award.

Khristian Ward, 10, a Roye-Williams Elementary School fifth grader, was one of 11 children from across the country who met with President Barack Obama this year as the first group of Kid Science Advisors to the president.

"He was a lot taller in person, a lot cooler in person," Khristian, who lives with his family on Aberdeen Proving Ground, said of his experience of going to the White House and meeting the president Oct 21.

Khristian, who participates in multiple STEM programs for children in Harford County, Baltimore and the Washington, D,C. region, is one of about 2,500 children who applied to the White House to be a Kid Science Advisor and submitted their ideas for STEM-related projects.

"I wanted to invent an microchip that helps gets rid of soldiers' PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) when they come home from war," Khristian said during an interview at his school last Friday. The chip would be implanted in a soldier's brain, he explained.

Sharalyn Heinly, a North Harford Middle School math teacher, was named the 2016-17 Harford County Teacher of the Year in March.

"Most people aren't crazy about math, or they think they're not," Heinly said during a visit to her classroom, explaining she had decided years earlier that "if I could get them to understand it and give it a purpose, I could change their minds."

Three Aberdeen High School students and their teacher made a whirlwind trip in March from Aberdeen to the White House and from there, accompanied by Second Lady Jill Biden, to the Johnson Space Center in Houston where they helped welcome astronaut Scott Kelly back from his record year-long journey in space.

Senior Kelly Pysh, 18, of Bel Air, who attends the Aberdeen High Science and Math Academy; sophomore Brandon Casquete, 16, of Aberdeen Proving Ground and junior Sara Decker, 17, of Havre de Grace were accompanied by SMA teacher Yvonne Gabriel, who specializes in advanced placement environmental studies and research.

The four left the AHS campus in a Harford County Public Schools bus around noon last Wednesday, and returned to the school at 7:30 a.m. the next day, having crammed an odyssey of a lifetime into less than 20 hours.

Gabriel and the students said they barely slept during an excursion that included meeting Biden and her husband, Vice President Joe Biden, at the White House, being escorted in a motorcade to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C., and then flying on Air Force Two, the customized Boeing 757 used to transport the vice president, to and from Houston. They received a tour of the NASA facility while in Houston.

Aberdeen High School received a national ranking in April of 1,933 out of more than 21,000 high schools by U.S. News & World Report's 2106 Best High Schools Rankings. The ranking were based on data from the 2013-14 academic year. Aberdeen High School was the only public high school in Harford County to receive this honor. Rankings were based on how students performed on standardized tests, the school's graduation rate and how well students are prepared to enter college.

Harford County Public School students scored above the state and national averages for students at all grade levels on standardized tests. Harford County School Superintendent Barbara Canavan said, "we are pleased with our SAT, Advanced Placement and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) results this year."

If there was a longevity award, it would go to Bel Air High School, which began as the Bel Air Academy, as it celebrates its 200th year. A series of events and celebrations are scheduled throughout the school year.

Harford County Public schools received a grant in October from the Department of Defense Education Activity Partnership Grant Program for a Digital Conversion Initiative in five Aberdeen area schools that will focus on blending digital and traditional learning in reading, English and language arts.

School history started to come alive in March as efforts to preserve the Havre de Grace Colored High School at Alliance and Stokes streets began. The effort was spearheaded by the leaders of the Hosanna School Museum in Darlington, the site of the first public school in Harford County for African-Americans. The Havre de Grace Colored High School was the first school in the area for teaching African-Americans students through the 11th grade, when most schools in the country only went to the eighth grade.

Another part of school history met with the wrecking ball, as planned, in July. The original 63-year-old Youth's Benefit Elementary School building in Fallston was demolished as the first part of the new school opened with the start of the 2016-17 school year.

The Edgewood High School Alumni Association announced in January plans to erect a memorial stone in front of the school to honor former EHS students who died in the line of duty, both military and first responders. The black granite stone was placed in the fall in the flower garden near the ram mascot statue at the front entrance of the school.

Harford County Council President Richard Slutzky. Slutzky told the audience at the Joppa/Joppatowne Community Advisory Board meeting that the APF board, the school board nor the HCPS administration had made a commitment to closing Joppatowne High School. Slutzky's comments were made to address community concerns the school would be closing.

Aberdeen High School announced that for the first time in school history, all graduates would be wearing one color cap and gown, royal blue. In the past boys wore blue caps and gowns and girls would wear all white caps and gowns. The change was not a result of a drive for gender neutrality, according to Harford County Public Schools Manager of Communications, Jillian Lader. "This change is made at the school level and was decided because the focus of graduation is on the unity of the class, and that each student has achieved the same goal," Lader wrote in an email.

Harford County seniors said a symbolic farewell to high school as the Class of 2016 graduated as the 2015-16 school year was ending.

Another school year began Aug. 25. More than 37,000 Harford County Public Schools students were registered for the start of the 2016-17 school year, which may be the last to start before Labor Day in the foreseeable future.

Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order in September directing school systems across the state to delay the start of classes for the next school year until after Labor Day and to wrap up by June 15. The governor said the "long overdue" mandate "will help protect the traditional end of summer." Not everyone in education agreed, but Harford's public schools didn't publicly dissent.

The next month, the school system became one of the first Maryland school systems to formally propose a calendar for the 2017-18 school year in which classes begin after Labor Day.

As part of its budgeting process, the Harford County Board of Education voted to restore overnight stays to Harford Glen, but to help with the funding, voted to increase the pay-to-play participation fee from $50 to $100 per sport per athlete. The board also included those in drama programs to be required to pay the $100 fee.

On the higher education front, Dennis Golladay retired as president of Harford Community College. He spent the last six years leading HCC before announcing his retirement. Dianna Phillips became the college's ninth president beginning on Aug. 1.

Even with the change in administrations, college leaders continued to wrestle with the twin problems of declining enrollment and tuition increases, which the new president vowed to tackle when she said down with The Aegis shortly after taking office.

As presidents change and high school seniors become alumni, the wheels of education keep turning year after year in Harford and 2016 was no exception.

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