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‘Agenda of equity’: Howard superintendent discusses redistricting, budget, graduation rates during yearly address

Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano delivers his State of Schools address Thursday, Jan. 16, at The Meeting House in Columbia.
Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano delivers his State of Schools address Thursday, Jan. 16, at The Meeting House in Columbia. (Nicholas Griner / HANDOUT)

The Howard County Public School System’s “north star” — its guiding light, according to the schools superintendent — is its high school graduation rate.

“I am driven, as the day is long, [to see] that every child graduates,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said during his State of Schools address Thursday morning.

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“The true measure of our success — our ‘true north star’ — is bridging the gap for those who are falling behind,” which can be tracked with the yearly graduation rate, he said.

The Class of 2019 had a 92% graduation rate, making it one of the highest in the state, according to Martirano.

However, that means 8% of Howard County seniors did not walk across the stage in their cap and gown to receive their diploma.

“We cannot afford to be complacent. Eight percent of our students did not make it to graduation … [showing that] troubling achievement gaps remain,” Martirano said.

“Wake up America, wake up Howard County; the achievement gap begins at birth.”

Addressing a large crowd Thursday morning at The Meeting House in Columbia, Martirano gave his annual State of Schools speech where he touched upon a variety of topics, including special education, the operating and capital budgets, redistricting and equity. He also presented his State of Schools address to the Board of Education on Tuesday afternoon.

Bright Minds, the school system’s educational foundation, hosted Thursday’s event.

Suzi Padgett, vice chairwoman of the Bright Minds board of directors, introduced Martirano before he gave his address.

“As he has said from day one on the job, ‘to teach a child well, you must know a child well,’ and his focus remains on the personal well‐being and academic success of every one of Howard County’s 59,000 students,” Padgett said.

Martirano thanked Bright Minds for its service to the school system as the nonprofit works to provide opportunities and services for students, including free laptops so children can academically excel both in school and at home, and the Read with Me program, that provides a free book each month to children up to age 5 in several elementary school communities.

Greg Murach, a math teacher at Mt. Hebron High School and a 2019 Howard County Teacher of the Year recipient, spoke about the benefits of some of his students receiving laptops from Bright Minds.

Murach was able to teach his students in innovative ways, utilizing different software and math programs that helped his students quickly grow their math skills and excel in the classroom.

“Bright Minds did something invaluable … [by] providing computers,” he said.

A key component of Martirano’s mission is “learning and leading with equity.”

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“One size does not fit all; that is the agenda of equity,” Martirano said.

To put equity into action, he said, it is anchored by four measures: the operating budget, the capital budget, eliminating the health fund deficit and redistricting. These fours areas are “inextricably linked” to achieving overall success for the school system.

“Every child in this school system matters … understand that my commitment to this community is stronger than it’s ever been,” Martirano said.

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