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In an open letter, eight pastors called for Superintendent George Arlotto to create a “new vision for Meade High School,” by tackling challenges like teacher retention, citations and arrests, as well as academic resources in the upcoming budget for 2021-2022.

“The school is an essential part of community life and serves a large number of military dependents, students from robust middle-class neighborhoods, and students from disadvantaged homes,” the letter states. “Despite its successes and promise however, Meade has been chronically under-resourced.”

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The letter came in response to a community organized event last November that brought together officials like Arlotto, police officers, faith-based leaders and students, said Devin Tucker, chair of the organization, the Arundel Legislative Symposium. One of the pastors who signed, Rev. Herb Watson of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, said he has paid attention to the school since he first joined the church over 20 years ago.

“There was concern way back then. Things have gotten worse than better, we have been concerned and tried to make it better,” Watson said.

Rev. Demetrius Watts of Kingdom Life Church, who also signed the letter, said the school system has to improve school conditions and student achievement with intention.

“We have to be very intentional about kids — that is important. If you are concerned about your child, you are concerned about their welfare.”

The event this past November brought forward some of those concerns to be discussed.

“The Arundel Legislative Symposium started in response to The Capital’s reporting on arrests and citations,” Tucker said. “The goal and response was instead of whining about it, was to dig deeper... and try and mobilize a response and hold people accountable as part of it.”

Arlotto and other officials received the letter Tuesday evening. In response, schools spokesman Bob Mosier said in an email that the involvement from community leaders is important to the superintendent because “schools are at their greatest when there are involved communities contributing to the successes of students.”

“Regarding Meade High School, Dr. Arlotto is meeting in the near future with staff from the school and school system to discuss various aspects of the school as they regard ongoing projects and initiatives as well as issues discussed in the letter and at the symposium,” Mosier said.

According to the symposium’s website, the event was created “to help articulate the needs of Meade High School, offer credible solutions, advocate for more budget resources for the school, and create a community-driven solution for providing more tutoring and mentoring support for the Meade feeder.” At the beginning of the school year, The Capital published an in-depth look at the school that has the highest amount of juvenile citations.

Through a public information request, data showed two academic school years in which school resource offices at Meade logged the most citations. From September 2017 to June 2018, 183 juvenile charges were given. For the 2018 to 2019 school year, officers issued 141 citations.

The letter called the student citations concerning.

“We believe that there is an urgent need for the school system to start addressing the needs of troubled youth much earlier at the middle school level,” the letter stated. “We are asking you to hire more social workers to help. We believe additional social workers are also needed to help address the unique needs of military dependents at Meade who too often find themselves uprooted from familiar surroundings due to a permanent change of station (PCS) or deployments.”

According to Mosier, Meade High has a full-time social worker.

In addition to juvenile charges, the pastors asked that Arlotto address other issues like instruction outside of school, school maintenance and teacher retention issues at Meade.

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“It has been an issue at Meade for decades,” Tucker said, pointing out that a third of the school’s staff are newly hired.

“The challenge for the school system is that the school system cannot continue to ignore (staffing), it is screaming for new intervention and we haven’t seen it yet.”

Tucker said the school system should return to incentives for teachers to stay through bonuses. The symposium also created a petition to address the need for more support, citing that Meade has the highest turnover rate in the county. The petition asks for support to “end teacher shortages and long-term substitute teachers,” according to its website.

“Experienced instructors are essential for addressing the opportunity gap and fostering a stable community of academic excellence and discipline,” the letter states.

“We implore you to address retention and recruitment challenges as a key priority in your budget. That Meade High School has the highest staff turnover in the entire school district is a disservice to our families, state, and county.”

In response to the letter, school board president Michelle Corkadel said in an email she would review the concerns.

County Executive Steuart Pittman also responded in an email stating, “I know that we can’t fund everything in Dr. Arlotto’s budget request, but we must address the issues in this letter.” He said he has talked to Arlotto about the challenges at Meade and will “consult with him on where his budget directs funds to these needs.”

Addressing other concerns regarding the school maintenance and landscape, Mosier stated that the board approved “modernization project” designs last November that would be done with $100 million in federal grant funding.

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