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Gifted students underserved, parents tell Harford school advisory panel

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Parents told a Harford County Public Schools advisory committee on gifted and talented programs that they feel their children are "greatly underserved" and cited poor communication when it comes to such programs, according to the committee's annual report issued earlier this month.

The chairman of the Citizen Advisory Committee for Gifted Education also said some parents are sending their children to private schools or out of the county because they feel Harford doesn't have adequate gifted and talented programs.

Meanwhile, with the success of surveillance cameras on Harford County Public School buses, the Visitor Management System and remote access controlled doors at schools, the Harford County school system's Citizen Advisory Committee on Safety and Security is recommending that HCPS continue using the security measures and consider expanding them.

HCPS' five citizen advisory committees gave annual reports to the school board during its meeting Oct. 8.

Gifted and talented

The Citizen Advisory Committee for Gifted Education held public forums in April and May at library locations around the county.

During these forums, a presentation was given on the county's gifted and talented program and the services provided by HCPS. Group discussions were also held.

According to the committee's report: "The most prevalent concern expressed by the participants included 'poor communication' and 'inconsistency regarding [gifted and talented] policies and services.'"

Participants at the forum said their children are "greatly underserved," the report read, "especially in the regular classroom and that curriculum for gifted and talented learners did not match their ability."

The committee also posted an online survey between Sept. 2, 2011 and Feb. 1, 2012 asking for community feedback on the gifted and talented program.

In all, 1,421 people completed the survey — parents with and without students in the program — and, just like in the community forums, there was an overwhelming response of parents who felt that communication is the biggest issue.

Based on the feedback from the online survey and forums, the committee made the following recommendations to the board: provide training and support teachers working with gifted and talent students in middle school; create and distribute a parent handbook on the program; and provide consistent levels of gifted and talented services at all schools.

Committee chair Yvonne Golczewski said parents are sending their kids to other counties or to private schools to get the kind of gifted and talented classes their kids need.

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick said he was "concerned about this [lack of] communication thing. That doesn't make sense to me."

He added that it seems odd when just a handful of parents know about the gifted and talented services provided at the schools.

Board member Nancy Reynolds was also concerned about the communication issues, and said the parents handbook should alleviate some of those problems.

Safety and security

The safety and security committee evaluated the effectiveness of the bus cameras, VMS and Proxy Card Access System for door locks over the past school year and found that each measure has proven to be successful.

Last year, 13 HCPS buses were equipped with cameras with the intention of keeping the bus drivers' attention on the road and help in tracking incidents. This year, the school system will have 12 more buses with cameras. An additional 12 buses will be equipped later in the school year.

The committee recommended pursuing an external "red light" pilot program that would help enforce laws prohibiting passing schools buses that have stop signs activated.

An external contractor, at no cost to HCPS, would do the installation, management and associated ticketing of the system, the committee's report read.

There are 33 school buildings equipped with the PCAS that uses authorized badges to access locked doors instead of keys.

At the current rate of installation, the report stated, all schools should be equipped with PCAS by fiscal year 2018.

"The effectiveness of this system is very apparent at every school that has been equipped with it has requested more be added to additional buildings," the report read.

It was also recommended that the VMS continue to be used to monitor visitors to each school and put emphasis on staff training on the system.

Reynolds called the bus cameras "money well spent."

Family life education

During the 2011-2012 school year, the Citizen Advisory Committee on Family Life Education approved instructional resources for family life and human sexuality content for all grades and evaluated the family life and human development program for all grades.

Members of the committee recommended three things to the board to strengthen the program for HCPS.

First, implement a comprehensive curriculum for both elementary and middle schools that align with the state's curriculum for health education. The state's curriculum includes units on family life and human development, which, the committee pointed out, addresses family life, human sexuality and disease prevention and control.

The committee also recommends reinstating staff positions that will partly provide instructional and administrative leadership in the program for all grades, as well as purchase new instructional materials for the family life and human development units and pay for guest speakers.

The curriculum is taught during a three-week course during science or health classes for fifth grade, a three-week course in seventh grade, part of eighth grade health classes for schools that have them, a mandatory one-unit course in ninth grade and an elective for grades 10 through 12.

Committee chair Jennifer Budelis commented that the program is typically taught at the end of the year, after science contests and testing are completed, and "doesn't get content to kids early enough or get enough attention."

Career and technology education

During the past school year, the Citizen Advisory Council on Career and Technology Education advocated for local funding for career and technology education programs in the county, according to its report.

The fiscal year 2012 operating budget included funding for equipment services, student transportation to career and technology student organization competitions and, in the capital improvement budget for the same year, an annual budget of $100,000 was approved to update CTE equipment.

Council members also gave recommendations for short, mid and long-term goals, including moving the CISCO Networking Academy from Joppatowne High School to Harford Technical High School within the next two years to replace the Computer and Networking Technology program.

Within three to five years, the council hopes to increase the number of students with the Project Lead the Way Biomedical Science program by expanding the program from Bel Air High School to other schools and to implement a state-developed Broadcast Technology program.

For long-term goals, the council wants to create a mock emergency operations center at JHS to be used jointly by students in the Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program and various county agencies.

David Kohlway, chairperson for the council, said the CTE program "prepares students for both college and careers" with trade specific skills and academic, as well as technical knowledge.

He reported to the school board that in 2011 nearly half of all students 10th through 12th grades enroll in a CTE course. The same was true in 2010.

In addition, 28 percent of Harford County's graduating class of 2011 completed a CTE program, which is up from 26 percent the previous year.

Kohlway said there is "definite staying power for CTE enrollment."

Board member Bob Frisch questioned expanding a program at Harford Tech when the building is over capacity.

He asked if it would be feasible to take some programs out of Harford Tech and put them in schools not as full to absorb that capacity and open up more opportunities for the programs to grow.

Kohlway explained HCPS needs to find out which schools have transportation capabilities to handle kids coming to magnet programs and what would be most cost effective.

Special education

Over the past year, the Special Education Citizen Advisory Committee has given several presentations to the community on topics such as anxiety, behaviors and early interventions.

The committee has also begun to advertise their meetings and created an e-mil list keep pass on information about special education in the community.

The committee recommended that board members attend at least one meeting this year, make special education information more accessible to parents and enhance the HCPS website to have that information available.

Special Education Director Ann-Marie Spakowski asked the board for more opportunities to develop the website's special education page, and noted she has worked with the HCPS communications office to develop ideas.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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