Hickey rebutts policy critics; Superintendent defends treatment of older schools; Says many 'misinformed'; Some parents claim Columbia buildings have fewer resources


Armed with an overhead projector and charts, Howard County School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey strongly rebutted last night charges that older schools are being neglected.

"Much of the heat that's been generated is misinformed at least in part," Hickey told a meeting of school board and PTA officials.

In the last several weeks, many parents have charged that the school system has neglected older schools, particularly in Columbia, and that they are substandard in terms of facilities, resources, staffing and technology.

But Hickey presented data to counter the charges.

Concerning technology, Hickey said the school system requires that schools have a 10-to-1 computer/student ratio.

But in elementary schools in Columbia, the ratios range from 4.5 pupils per computer to 8.3, he said, pointing to a chart.

"It is not all brand new state-of-the-art stuff," Hickey said. "But it is stuff that runs the software that we need to run for programs at the elementary-school level."

Hickey made particular reference to Wilde Lake Middle School, from which some parents pulled their children this year because, they said, it was inferior to their school of choice -- the new Lime Kiln Middle.

"Their ratio is 6.2 to 1," Hickey said of Wilde Lake. "And this is the year that they will get an upgrade again."

Hickey also made reference, though not by name, to Guilford Elementary School.

At a County Council meeting Monday, the PTA president complained that the school was being looked after more by churches, parents and teachers than by the school board.

"It was suggested that the board has not lived up to its commitment" to the school, Hickey said.

Additional resources

He then listed some additional resources the board has given Guilford to improve academic achievement -- a pre-kindergarten program, extended-day programs, two Reading Recovery teachers, two teaching positions to reduce class size, a psychologist, a social worker and a full-time guidance counselor.

"That hardly sounds like a school whose needs have been neglected," the superintendent said.

Hickey said the district plans early next week to make available to parents and others profiles of the schools that will paint a truer picture of what resources the schools have.

"I think there's a real lack of accurate information out there," Hickey said. "I will take a good part of the blame for that even though all this is public information."

Robin Procida, a PTA officer at two older county schools, said some of Hickey's data didn't agree with numbers she had been given by principals when she requested information about technology resources.

Some parents wondered if the district was counting computers in the main office or on guidance counselors' desks to boost numbers.

But Hickey said his numbers came from principals. Computers used for administrative purposes are counted separately, he said.

Many older computers, still usable but not as up-to-date, aren't counted either, said Sandra J. Erickson, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

Replacing computers

Erickson said her staff is considering accelerating the replacement schedule for old computers and equipment to keep older schools on a par with newer ones.

"And we've literally doubled the amount that we're requesting [in the capital budget] for technology for exactly those reasons," school board Vice President Stephen Bounds said.

Hickey also took a jab at County Council members who invited only parents in Columbia schools to speak at Monday night's meeting, saying he was aware the district needed to do more, but that it should not be held solely responsible.

'Community problems'

"The problems that exist are not problems of our making," he said. "They're community problems, housing and socioeconomic problems.

"As soon as they [students] walk into our schools, they do become our problem, but the solution has to extend beyond the school system," the superintendent continued. "Working together as a community, we're going to solve these problems, and it doesn't do any good to pit one part of the community against another."

Pub Date: 10/22/99

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