The gifted and talented program, teacher salaries and grade configuration were among the issues brought up by parents in the Carroll County community Wednesday night during the first of a series of town hall meetings between citizens and new Superintendent Steven Lockard and school board President Bob Lord.
About a dozen community members, in addition to a handful of Carroll County Public Schools staff and two other school board members, came out for the 90-minute session at Winters Mill High School in Westminster.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be back [in Carroll County],” said Lockard, a product of the school system.
Lockard said the goal of the town halls, of which three more are scheduled for the year, is to listen and learn. While there are many great strengths in the school system, he said, there are challenges and issues as well.
One person in attendance brought up whether Lord and Lockard thought teachers were paid enough, especially as the school system is in the last year of its contracts, with negotiations beginning again soon.
Lord said paying teachers well is one of the biggest goals — a point the board has focused on in recent years.
“We stress on making sure our greatest asset is being compensated,” he said.
Lockard echoed those thoughts and said CCPS wants the best teachers who go through a rigorous hiring process, adding that CCPS needs to be competitive because he doesn’t want teachers who settle on coming to Carroll because they weren’t hired elsewhere.
“I want the first-round draft pick,” he said.
But, Lockard added, it’s not just about pay when it comes to compensating teachers. For him, he said, choosing to come to Carroll was about coming back to a community he loves and in which he has ties.
The concept, unveiled at the last Board of Education work session by new Superintendent Steven Lockard, would be used both internally and externally. Internally, it will help CCPS track and monitor data, and help tie that information the strategic plan.
Salaries should be competitive, he said, and he will advocate for that, but there are other aspects of what makes Carroll a good system, like the supportive and caring culture.
In terms of educating students, a few parents brought up concerns about wanting more teachers for the Gifted and Talented Education Program, as well as how honors and academic classes are differentiated.
One parent, Tara Battaglia, a Westminster resident running for the Board of Education, asked why students in honors classes got to read different books compared to students in academic classes, citing the fact that one of her children was not getting to read “Romeo and Juliet” as a part of class this year.
Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent of instruction for CCPS, said while the goals and content skills are the same for all of the levels, some teachers may change the content, in terms of books read, or change the speed at which something is taught.
Andy Smith, a parent who has children that attend schools in the North Carroll area, asked about grade configuration and asked for Lockard’s opinion on different options that could help with the number of capital improvements needed.
Lockard said when he was in Frederick County, there were several schools set up like those in Mount Airy, where Parr’s Ridge Elementary houses students through second grade, and Mount Airy Elementary houses kids in third through fifth grades.
In Fairfax County, Virginia, he said, 90 percent of elementary schools were pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, with middle schools housing seventh- and eighth-graders.
“That was new for me,” Lockard said, adding, “There are advantages and disadvantages to everything.”
Lockard said it was his opinion that with the seventh and eighth grade in middle schools, the schools were too big.
But, he said, he’s open to conversations about different configurations and they need to look at the needs of the students and what is most beneficial to them.
Lockard closed his meeting by asking the community in attendance what they think Carroll student should learn and what skills they need before graduation. Some community members spoke about the need to be well-rounded and participate in extracurricular activities, while others spoke about the need to be able to have intelligent, respectful discussion and debate.
The community then turned the question around on Lockard, and asked what they could do to help make his time with CCPS more successful.
Lockard said he’s working to learn about all of the issues, but to do so, he needs parents and other Carroll residents to speak up and advocate.