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Year-round magnet school sought Pilot program for elementary pupils would be set up at Cromwell Valley


The Baltimore County school department showed the school board a plan last night to create Maryland's first year-round elementary school in 1994 with a magnet program that incorporates a variety of new educational trends.

The board was also scheduled to vote on a controversial plan to discourage traditional letter grades in elementary schools and substitute other methods of evaluating students.

With many parents lined up against the grading proposal, some board members predicted a compromise that would satisfy both the school administration and traditionalists.

The department's Model School Committee unveiled a proposal that would reopen Cromwell Valley Elementary School, now used for administrative offices, as a school for all seasons.

Closed 10 years ago when enrollments were declining, Cromwell would become a regional magnet specializing in computer technology that would test the feasibility of using year-round schools to eliminate overcrowding and avoid the need for new school construction.

In their proposal, officials said that Cromwell, on Providence Road just south of the Baltimore Beltway, would relieve overcrowding at five surrounding elementary schools and, by being a magnet, draw students from Hillendale Elementary, which has a mostly black enrollment. This would alleviate some of the racial imbalance there and at the reopened Cromwell. The school would eventually have 500 students.

With an emphasis on technology, there would be one computer for every six students. And those computers would be linked to other classrooms and schools within Baltimore County and throughout the country.

While children there would study typical elementary school subjects, plus a foreign language, the computer technology would be integrated into the curriculum.

Unlike most county schools, the Cromwell building is air-conditioned and suitable for year-round classes.

Several weeks ago, another panel broached the year-round school concept -- with staggered schedules for different groups of students -- as one way to accommodate a growing population with limited school construction funds.

By putting the year-round pilot in a magnet school that students and parents could choose, the school system would not be imposing the nontraditional school year on families.

.4l Under the proposal, students would not attend more than the required 180 days, but their vacations would be staggered so that schools would not shut down from June to September.

That allows a school to accommodate about 25 percent more students than it does under the current calendar.

If Baltimore County did begin a year-round program, it would likely be the first school system in the state to do so. Howard County has studied the possibility but has not implemented a program.

The reconversion of Cromwell is expected to cost about $2.7 million. But instead of returning to all traditional classrooms, it would have some open areas for large-group instruction.

The Cromwell proposal is the second for an elementary magnet school.

Church Lane Elementary School in Randallstown is planning to open a magnet program in technology in September 1994.

On the issue of letter grades, president Rosalie Hellman would not speculate on whether the board would approve an administration proposal to "discourage" formal letter grades in elementary schools, keep them in high schools and use middle school as a transition from one form of grading to another.

A sample elementary report card, developed by an alternative grading committees, breaks each subject into a number of specific skills that can be rated from on a scale of one (achieves standards independently)to four (not applicable).

For so-called "self-development" traits, such as showing respect for others or using good work habits, students would be rated outstanding, satisfactory or needing improvement.

Each school would be able to develop its own alternative report card geared to the needs of its students.

Board member Hilda Hillman said she thought the board would compromise on grades, giving parents "the yardstick" they seem to want, as well as a more descriptive report of what children do in the classroom.

"Parents want a mark against which they can measure the child's progress," she said, adding that most parents she has heard from want to keep traditional grades.

"People feel very strongly," she said.

"We need to be sensitive to the needs of parents as well as children."

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