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Relay Elementary parents continue campaign before school board

Kim Sterling, a parent of two Relay Elementary School students, speaks at Tuesday's school board meeting to ask for the school's principal to be transferred.
Kim Sterling, a parent of two Relay Elementary School students, speaks at Tuesday's school board meeting to ask for the school's principal to be transferred. (Nicole Munchel / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Parents from Relay Elementary School again appeared before the Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education Tuesday night, urging the board to do more in addressing their concerns about the school.

As the school year began last week, parent Heather Mix told the board during the meeting's public comment portion that many parents at the school felt no more confident in the school administration than they did earlier this summer, when many gathered at the school to ask for the resignation of Relay principal Lisa Dingle after the loss of many teachers at the end of the school year and concerns over an increase behavior incidents.

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County schools officials had told parents that a series of steps would be taken this year to address some of the problems at the school, such as bringing in a behavior specialist to help the school combat the behavior problem and promising parents more communication from school officials.

But, "parents are not satisfied," Mix said to the board.

Kids don't have the time to wait for "hand-holding" and observing of the principal and the school's policies, she said.

"These actions are being put in place to save an already failing school," Mix said. "It's time for a change in leadership."

Two other parents who attended the meeting with Mix, Kim Sterling and Mindy Athas, echoed Mix's concerns in their own remarks to the board.

"How do we define a failing school?" Sterling asked the board. "What is it that BCPS needs to see before we can agree that it's time for a change in leadership at Relay?"

Athas pointed to the large turnover in staff — including the departure of about a dozen staff members in June and the hiring this summer of 18 new staff members — that sparked a July meeting in which parents first asked to have Dingle removed. Since then, parents have made appearances at every board meeting since mid-July to voice their frustration to the school board.

"The trust is gone," Athas said of the atmosphere in the school this year. "The fear remains."

After the meeting, which ended with a request from board members Romaine Williams and Michael Collins that the board get an update from the school system about the situation at Relay, assistant superintendent for county elementary schools Jane Lichter said she was proud of the work Dingle has put in over the summer to remedy some of the problems brought forward by parents. Dingle could not be reached for comment.

"We've had a great opening," said Lichter, who added that she's been to the school at least once a week since schools opened Aug. 24.

As of last week, parents were notified of their selection for the school's newly formed Parent Advisory Board and the behavior interventionist has been at the school regularly, monitoring the behavior of students and the response by faculty, she said.

Additionally, Lichter said, Dingle has put an emphasis on keeping the lines of communication open between herself and parents, something all three of the parents acknowledged was taking place.

And Lichter and school spokesman Mychael Dickerson said they have received multiple messages from people in the Relay community praising the work Dingle has done at the school since she arrived three years ago.

In response to criticism by some parents that the plan for Relay outlined in the letter from the school system over the summer did not set measurable marks by which to monitor the situation at the school, Lichter said the administration's success will be measured the same way success is measured at any other school.

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"We'll continue to measure how our students are doing," she said.

For the parents who carpooled together to the meeting from Relay though, that measure and the promise of continued monitoring of the situation at the school is not sufficient, they said.

"It's like putting a Band-Aid on a surgical wound," Athas said.

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