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Eaton to preside over era of change on school board


As a young helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Ron Eaton learned the lessons of warfare well.

Sometimes too well.

He brought back graphic memories that have never left him. One, in particular, led to his eventual involvement as a member of the Harford County school board.

Sitting in his comfortable Fallston home, Mr. Eaton is reluctant to talk about the incident at first, but, slowly, the story emerges of a soldier far from home teaching a Vietnamese boy to read.

But the story had a tragic ending. The boy, who had only one good eye, was blinded by Viet Cong soldiers after they found his English primer. The child's fate has stayed with Mr. Eaton over the years, fortifying him with a desire to promote education.

"We have to make sure that everybody has a good eye, that we're not taking out the good eye of the kids," he says.

The 47-year-old Baltimore County native, who has lived in Harford since 1973, says he can best serve the educational needs of the community by being a school board member. He is serving his second five-year term and is this year's board president, succeeding Percy V. Williams, who retired June 30.

"Dr. Williams is a difficult act to follow," Mr. Eaton says. "I don't know anyone who could follow in his footsteps."

But Mr. Eaton does have an agenda. "One of the most important things facing the board is the changing landscape within the board," he says, referring to new faces on the seven-member panel.

Richard Daub of Havre de Grace has been named to fill the vacancy created by Dr. Williams' retirement, and there will be at least one more opening this year when board member Anne Sterling leaves Nov. 1 to move with her family to Virginia.

Also, board member Keith Williams has expressed an interest in a seat on Harford Community College's board of trustees, Mr. Eaton says.

One of the most important issues the board will be tackling this year is technology, he says, adding, "This is clearly an area we have not properlyfocused or resourced."

Mr. Eaton looks forward to a time when the Harford school system can implement "long distance learning," in which schools will be linked by fiber optics and videos.

This year, he also would like the board to review the school system's policy manual and take a continuing look at safety, security and discipline.

"The board has been strong on its position in dealing with drugs, alcohol, weapons and violence," he says. But changes in demographics and the social mores of youth require a continued focus on these areas, he says.

"Student appeals [of expulsions and suspensions] are the most painful thing we have to do," he says.

In fact, the trauma of the appeals led to the county's alternative education program. Students who have been suspended or expelled have been able to keep up with their academics in the evening at Bel Air High School. In September, the program will expand to include a site at Aberdeen High.

Mr. Eaton has two years left on the school board and will retire in 1996 as director of aviation and safety for the Maryland National Guard. He's not making any commitments now, but there's every indication he will be involved in the community.

"I feel strongly about commitment to people," he says. "You can't just take. You have to give back."

These are lessons he learned from his parents, says the Loyola College graduate, who is married and has a daughter, Kris, 9, and two stepchildren, Laura, 19, and Mike, 22.

Involvement seems to run in the family. Joyce, his wife of 17 years, is a candidate for the County Council.

"We have the same kinds of commitment to the community," Mr. Eaton says.

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