Another term for redistricting; Harford County: Imagination, not uncertainly and turmoil, is what achieving school system needs.


WHOEVER IN government first decided to call a tax increase "revenue enhancement," would be proud of the Harford County Board of Education.

Rather than advertise that it was meeting on "school redistricting," which would have have generated more electricity than Conowingo Dam, the board recently held a session it euphemistically titled "managing growth and balancing enrollment -- next steps," whatever that means. Then the board feigned shock when only a few residents attended.

Officials shouldn't mistake that as a sign few care. To the contrary, most Harford countians probably believe in the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Generally speaking, residents seem happy with the schools. In her "State of the Schools" address last week, Harford Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas cheered the support of residents and businesses.

The school board would be ill-advised to inject uncertainly about where students will attend school. Its problem is how to alleviate severe crowding in some schools. Short on capital funds, the board can't build its way out of the problem. Also, it will be hard-pressed to build a political consensus for drastic change, especially since the most crowded elementary, Abingdon, made the best gains in state test scores.

Yet perhaps the most promising idea from a school board member was the most radical. Thomas D. Hess talked about creating a "super district" of five or more elementary schools, each specializing in a different subject, such as the arts or math or science. Let students apply for them, regardless of where they live. Similar "signature schools" have worked well in Baltimore County. Whether the specific idea is feasible, the thinking is on target: Get people excited about the educational possibilities. Have them buy into change, rather than hide behind "name games" and give them cause for fear.

Pub Date: 10/01/99

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