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Citizens group formed to urge accountability in schools Wishnick, an organizer of PASS, lost close election for board


More than 70 Howard County parents and residents have formed a group to press for more accountability in the county school system, initially focusing on teacher evaluations, textbook availability and spending.

"The people who are united in this group are determined to pursue the issue of accountability," said Francine Wishnick, a member of the steering committee of People for Accountability in the School System (PASS), in announcing the group's creation this week.

"We don't think there is another citizens group looking closely at the interaction between local school actions and central office actions and where the buck stops when there's a problem," said Wishnick, a community activist from Columbia who narrowly lost last month in a bid for a seat on the county school board.

The group plans to testify before the school board and lobby for changes, she said.

Other groups that typically are active in school system affairs include the county PTA Council, local school PTAs, the Citizens Advisory Council to the school board, the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and smaller advocacy groups for such students as those with disabilities.

"I think we can be a group outside the system that can offer a voice for both parents and others in the community who are concerned about the schools," said another member of the PASS steering committee, Deb Schultz of Savage.

Many of the group's members are parents, but Wishnick and Schultz said they expect residents who don't have children in schools but are concerned about local education to join.

Initially, the group plans to look at issues involving teacher evaluations, adequate textbooks for students and the shifting of more responsibility and power from the school system's central office to individual schools.

PASS also plans to ask the school system to begin doing exit surveys of parents who withdraw their children from Howard schools to find out whether they are dissatisfied and why.

Schultz and Wishnick were two of the authors of the recent community evaluation of Howard's middle schools. The evaluation called for broad changes in middle schools to place greater emphasis on academic achievement and less on activities to enhance self-esteem.

Some of the issues raised by PASS are similar to those raised by the middle school report and Wishnick's unsuccessful school board campaign, but Schultz and Wishnick emphasized that PASS is a separate group with broad-based support that intends to look at the whole system.

"I expect some people to say this is sour grapes. My response is that I ran because I was interested in trying to solve some of the problems I see in the school system, and I still hope to be involved," Wishnick said.

School board member Sandra French, who is expected to be elected board chairwoman next week, said she "welcomes positive, pro-active assistance."

Pub Date: 12/05/96

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