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Changing course on schools; Howard County: With broad redistricting delayed, officials must close disparities in the system.


IF HOWARD COUNTY educators decided to put off redrawing school district boundaries to avoid controversy, it didn't succeed. A chorus of criticism met school authorities' decision to delay drawing new district lines until 2003.

County Council President C. Vernon Gray, for one, accused educators of ducking a difficult task. Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said the school planners changed course when they realized they could not simultaneously rezone schools and reduce elementary-school class size, a priority locally and of Gov. Parris N. Glendening. The county doesn't have enough classroom space to tackle both goals, he said.

By 2003, population projections portend a decline in demand for classrooms in elementary schools. That would open space for countywide redistricting, if necessary, officials say.

In the meantime, politicians and educators must address the problem of disparate school performance in a more rational, open and comprehensive way -- and they must involve parents.

It was, for example, incredible that County Executive James N. Robey and Mr. Gray appeared caught off-guard by the system's significant change in direction, even if, obviously, the school board does not report to them.

Mr. Hickey says concerns about racial and income balance between schools is "not our problem" -- but that view is shortsighted and unrealistic.

The system cannot operate in a vacuum. Schools with perceived or actual declines in achievement and discipline are leading families to move or transfer children. The schools and neighborhoods Mr. Gray is concerned about do have talented students, committed teachers and devoted parents. Public officials and educators must help them achieve their potential. That is their problem -- and their opportunity.

Pub Date: 10/01/99

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