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Schools-to-career plan likely to be developed


The Howard County school system likely will develop a new school-to-careers program to provide work experience for students unable to meet the higher academic requirements of the new technology magnet high schools.

The plan is intended to address the concerns of parents who fear that the new technology magnet program is too academically rigorous for those pupils who plan to seek jobs after graduation rather than go on to college.

The school-to-careers proposal was one of 15 recommendations presented to the county school board last night by a committee of teachers, administrators, parents and others who are studying the implications of the technology magnet program.

The program encompasses five areas of study: biotechnology; communications; construction and manufacturing; human services; and energy, power and transportation. The program has two levels -- one for students who want to go on to college and another for those seeking jobs after graduation.

The program is scheduled to open in fall 1996 in the county's two new high schools, River Hill and Long Reach. It will replace the more traditional vocational education now offered at the Howard County School of Technology.

The report presented last night was the school system's first attempt to identify ways to ensure that all students will have an opportunity to enroll in the new program.

"What we're trying to do with this report is to give reassurance to people . . . who have expressed concerns, including parents of special education students," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

The report says that more students will be able to meet the technology magnet prerequisites if efforts are made from elementary school onward to improve academic achievement.

Some of the report's recommendations include increased emphasis on reading at all grade levels, more instructional time for students to master basic skills, and additional academic support and tutoring.

The report also urges that the school system begin talking to parents and students about the technology magnet program as early as elementary school to ensure that they are aware of the academic requirements.

"Students can't come to eighth grade and say, 'I want to be ready for the technology magnet program next week or next month.' The planning must begin earlier," said Janie Zimmer, the school system's coordinator of mathematics and a member of the committee.

But for those students who are either unable to meet the academic requirements, or who choose not to enter the technology magnet program, the report says that existing work-related programs can be modified.

For example, the school-to-careers program would replace the existing released-time program that permits students to leave school early and work part time. It would include academic courses that would enable students to meet state graduation requirements while still placing them in the workplace in their senior year.

The report also suggests that in-school work opportunities be developed -- including small businesses such as produce stores or bagel shops -- for students with disabilities who need to learn workplace skills in a school-based program.

The committee is expected to offer more specific ideas to the board in November.

In other business, the board conducted its first public hearing to get suggestions on what should be included in the fiscal 1997 capital budget. Only four parents testified, and all of them urged board members to continue to build more schools and renovate existing ones.

"As parents and teachers, few of us have escaped the negative impact that gross overcrowding or inadequate facilities has on DTC the educational experiences of our children," said Susan Tucker, chairwoman of the Howard County PTA Council's budget committee. "Please continue to propose capital budgets which support the needs of our children."

Board members clearly agreed with the parents, as the county's 36,000-student population is predicted to gain a record 1,800 new pupils in the fall and is expected to grow at a record pace for at least the next decade.

But the tight county budget has forced substantial cuts in school construction dollars, including a $6 million reduction in what the board had sought for the current year.

That cut forced the school system to significantly curtail some of its construction and renovation plans, and the budget situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

Dr. Hickey is expected to release his proposed capital budget for fiscal year 1997 later this fall, and last night's testimony from parents was intended to help him set priorities.

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