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To many of the 200 parents, teachers and business owners who crowdedinto the auditorium of Northwest Middle School, last night's Maryland 2000 kick-off meeting may have seemed little more than a recitationof statistics, strategies and educational jargon.

But to the state and local school officials rattling off the details of the state's newest educational improvement effort, last night was the beginning of a program that will make Carroll schools better places to learn by the end of the century.

"Where are we going from here?" asked George Phillips, principal at Francis Scott Key High School, one of three schools chosen in Carroll as a Maryland 2000 Charter School. "I don't know, but I can tell you that education is going to change greatly as we enter the next century."

Educational reform -- a staple of national politics for almost a generation -- has been on the state and local agendas in forcefor nearly two years.

Maryland 2000 is the latest state addition for Schools For Success, the state's latest school reform effort.

The program, which is designed to formalize relationships between schools and their communities, is designed to supplement in-school efforts of teachers and administrators to improve all aspects of student life.

"If there's one message of schools for success, it is that weall need each other," said school board President Cheryl A. McFalls."School improvement is so important."

County Commissioner President Donald I. Dell also spoke during the 45-minute meeting, calling education a priority to the commissioners, even with a dwindling countybudget.

"Everyone's pulling together for education," he said.

Last night's meeting here was one of 42 around the state to be conducted as part of the kickoff for Maryland 2000. Others will be held over the next couple of days.

The program, in response to the Bush administration's America 2000 education initiatives, seeks support in various forms from community and business leaders. It is one of many ways schools in Maryland hope to improve educational performance, saidBrian L. Lockard, Carroll's assistant superintendent of instruction.

"The difference in this program is to get the business community,elected officials and the community at large tuned in to what schoolimprovement is all about," he said. "The program is not pegged only on money, but it is to get commitments to help us achieve results."

Areas of targeted improvement include increased attendance, better writing skills and improved dropout rates -- areas where Carroll schools failed to meet state excellence standards on test results released in November.

The Maryland 2000 program can take whatever form individual schools want, Lockard said. And while Taneytown Elementary, Northwest Middle and Francis Scott Key High -- Carroll's three charter schools for Maryland 2000 -- are the only ones now involved in the program, other schools could come on line in the coming years.

"We're open to anything," Lockard said.

Organizers hope to recruit mentors to help improve reading and writing skills, business people to teach economics courses and others to participate in incentive programs rewarding good attendance or academic performance.

School officials hope some of the 200 people who turned out last night will form a core group of community supporters to help with the school-improvement effort.

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