Teacher's resignation announced


A Howard High School teacher who claimed she had been attacked, but actually had stabbed herself, has resigned.

Kathleen J. Johnston, a 21-year physical education teacher, quit Dec. 21, but her resignation was not announced until yesterday's school board meeting during a routine personnel report. Ms. Johnston left for personal reasons, the report said.

In September, Ms. Johnston was found lying in her office before school began with a knife wound to the abdominal area. She first claimed that two men robbed and injured her, but county police in December issued a terse statement saying her allegation was "unfounded."

She has not returned to school since the incident.

It was unclear whether the school system forced her out or whether she left voluntarily. Superintendent Michael E. Hickey would not comment.

"That's a personnel matter," he said.

Only school board Vice Chairwoman Sandra French commented on the resignation. "In education, we place the interest of children first," she said. "In this unfortunate incident, the students were overlooked and subordinated."

Howard's principal, Eugene Streagle, said he was relieved. "I don't see that she could have done anything else," he said. "I'm relieved in the sense that the issue itself is settled and whatever blot was placed on us is now erased. The community and the students did not deserve that."

In other matters, the school board discussed the possibility of increasing the capacity of county high schools to 1,600 students, several hundred more than currently attend most of the facilities.

Board members heard a school system finding that the size of the student population appears to make no difference to how well students perform academically. The report found smaller schools allow students greater chances to participate in extra-curricular activities, but offered no data on what the optimal size of a high school would be.

The report was preceded last night by the presentation of another study concluding that even with the construction of three new high schools and additions to several others in the next five years, there won't be enough space for about 1,400 students in the year 2005.

Looking ahead to the likelihood of squeezing 1,800 students into schools enlarged to a capacity of 1,600, board members said they would schedule a visit to a high school of that size in some other county -- perhaps Anne Arundel's Severna Park High, or Carroll's Westminster High -- to see how well they operate.

The board also:

* Accepted the appointment of Kenneth Gill as principal at Elkridge Landing Middle School, scheduled to open next fall. He is currently the principal at Wilde Lake Middle School.

When he takes on his new assignment Jan. 31, he will be replaced by Albertha Caldwell, now an assistant principal at Glenwood Middle School.

* Gave preliminary approval to build an elementary and a middle school on a 40-acre piece of land off Gorman Road between Murray Hill Road and Interstate 95. The board will hold a public hearing on Feb. 7 on the site, owned by Howard Research and Development Co., and vote Feb. 23.

The two schools, scheduled to open in 1997 and 1998, will relieve crowding in the Hammond, Savage and North Laurel communities.

* Approved Mount Hebron High School as the eighth school having school-based management, in which central administration allows a school committee to make decisions about budgeting, curriculum and other matters.

* Heard a report on the results of the Maryland School Performance Program tests given last year to students in the third, fifth and eighth grades -- including comparisons of results at the various schools. (School-by-school results will be published in Sunday's editions of The Sun for Howard County).

Overall, more than half of Howard County students who took the test performed at what was termed a satisfactory level. But the county still needs to improve students' scores in reading and math, especially at the third-grade level.

The report also found that eighth-graders made strides at all levels, and Asian students fared better than their peers on test performance. Regardless of ethnicity, female students got better scores than male students.

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