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Superintendent wants to keep local control over schools

In her first meeting with Harford's business community since being permanently appointed chief of schools, Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan said she supports localized control of the education system in the county.

Canavan said she takes issue with a push from the Maryland General Assembly to regulate school start times in Harford County and around Maryland.

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The Maryland House of Delegates passed legislation, HB 883, backed by Del. Aruna Miller, who represents Montgomery County, by a 129-0 vote requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to conduct a study of safe and healthy school hours for Maryland Public Schools students. Under the legislation, the department will submit a report of their findings by Dec. 31.

The Senate bill, SB 14 introduced by State Sen. Edward Reilly of Anne Arundel County, is set for a hearing Wednesday, Reilly said.

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The legislation was prompted by studies that students in kindergarten through 12th grade perform better when they get an adequate amount of sleep, Reilly said.

"I think it's a mistake to take away control from the local school board about when school begins and when it ends," Canavan said during a meeting Tuesday morning with leaders from the Harford Business Roundtable for Education.

Canavan said the legislation does not take into account the start times of middle and elementary schools, teachers who are in graduate school and after-school extracurricular activities and athletics.

"The community needs to decide what is right for their community," Canavan said. "The research that is being quoted is antiquated. It has more to do with bedtime than getting up for school."

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Teacher's salaries, impact on education

According to Canavan, there is a growing concern that Harford County teachers will leave the county, because their salaries have remained stagnate over the last four to five years.

HCPS has a 96 percent retention rate in teachers, Canavan said, but it can be increasingly difficult to retain them when the school system does not have the money to increase salaries.

The average teacher's salary in Harford County is between $45,000 and $46,000, Canavan said, with teachers starting at about $41,500. She said the median salary for residents of Harford County is abut $72,000, putting HCPS teachers on the low end of the median scale.

"It's difficult when you can't give compensation to someone," Canavan said.

The school system is, however, providing compensation to their teachers in other ways besides salary, in the form of professional development and mentorship opportunities.

A digital classroom

The school system's chief of administration Joe Licata said technology is a chief concern in the school system as it is an important component of the new state-wide curriculum Common Core, which is an annual student performance computer-based test called the PARCC Assessment.

"We haven't had the capital to upgrade the technology," Licata said. "We're still trying to figure out which testing devices we will use for the PARCC."

Licata said the Harford Metropolitan Area Network (HMAN) project, which connects government buildings, schools and libraries through a high-speed fiber-optic based network, is an added benefit to HCPS and will allow the it to connect devices and get access once they are purchased.

Drew Moore, director of technology, said the school system is looking into ways to meet the new learning standard. He said technology was once thought of as an add-on or a support system for the basic lesson. Now, Moore said, technology is the mechanism for learning.

Moore said the school system could have been using technology to keep students up-to-date and on point with lesson plans during the many missed school days because of inclement weather. He said schools are in an environment where students are being taught 24 hours, seven days a week.

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