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Opportunities and challenges await as schools open [Our View]

Back to school
Back to school(Ricig)

The dawn of a new school year always carries an air of excitement – and plenty of butterflies – before students, parents, teachers and staff settle in to a routine.

This year also features a significant change in the top leadership of Howard's system, one that for years has been able to boast of high-achieving students, engaged parents, talented instructors and a generous financial commitment from county and state taxpayers.

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The interim superintendent, Michael Martirano, has been overhauling the organizational structure following the abrupt departure of Renee Foose, whose polarizing leadership in her waning months as superintendent distracted attention from the strengths of the schools as well as the challenges it faces.

Martirano, who spells out his broad vision for the schools in a column on the next page, immediately established an energetic leadership style and tone. But his honeymoon is coming to an end.

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Out of all the teachers, administrators and students at Worthington Elementary School’s first day of school, perhaps the person most excited to be there was Interim Superintendent Michael

Several of the challenges before the superintendent and school board this year include closing gaps in student achievement, figuring out the best options for relieving crowded schools through changes in attendance boundaries and managing a growing 56,000-student system with fiscal restraint.

Howard's scores from the latest PARCC tests, which measure performance in English language arts and mathematics in grades three to eight, were above statewide averages but nothing to be proud of. Fifty-six percent of students got a passing score on English and 48.1 percent passed in math. (The statewide passing rate was 40.6 percent for English, 33 percent for math.)

Improvements in the scores of what have been characterized as challenging, rigorous tests are going to be gradual. The hard work has to come at the grass-roots classroom level, where the teachers must have support from leaders who can address and help close performance gaps.

Although a redistricting plan is a year away, the impending decisions will be wrenching for an estimated 8,700 students and their families. At least 16 schools are above capacity and are facing a reshuffling in a process that must be sensitive to the disruptions the changes will bring and the potential for worsening pockets of subpar performance.

The start of a new year is reinvigorating, a chance to look at the vast potential of the next generation and build upon the strengths that exist in the county school community.



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