21 selected for schools' equity panel; Leadership committee plans to examine academic concerns; 'Not an uncommon issue'; 1 member to be named; image will be topic of first meeting Nov. 18


Twenty-one people -- plus one to be named later -- were chosen yesterday as members of Howard County's new Leadership Committee on School Equity, set to tackle concerns about schools with poor images at its first meeting Nov. 18.

Representing groups from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to Data Corp. of America, the panel is headed by Bill B. Benton, 56, a private consultant with a long background in public administration, and Howard Community College President Mary Ellen Duncan, 58. They were named last week.

County Executive James N. Robey and school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey created the group to find answers to public concern about schools with lagging academic performance -- schools that also are often the county's oldest.

With a member representing the Columbia Association to be named later, the group is also to investigate why some older county schools have lost large numbers of white students, leaving them with concentrations of minority students, and with higher rates of children from poor families.

Although the committee will draw expertise from government, business and the communities, no preconceptions exist, its leaders said.

"I'm certainly not an expert on education," said Benton, a veteran administrator for state and federal government who was active in Robey's election campaign. "I don't have any agendas."

Benton, a Glenelg resident who lived in Columbia for more than 20 years, served state government as a top official in the Department of Human Resources during the 1970s and early 1980s, and he has done management studies for federal agencies.

"This is not an uncommon issue around the country," he said.

Benton said he plans to do Internet research before the committee meets to get ideas for organizing the effort. A final report is due March 1.

Duncan, a former Catonsville Community College instructor, came to Howard County in July 1998 from New York.

"It will be a learning experience," she said. "One of the positives is that I will come at this without any preconceived notions."

Despite the complexity and sensitivity of the subject, "the fact that we still want to be better, I think, speaks highly of the community. We're not going to ignore it."

Hans Meeder, an educational consultant named to the committee by County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, said the problems are far deeper than technology or other physical issues.

"We need to get away from just measuring computer to student ratios -- it's just such a side issue," Meeder said. "How do you hold the school accountable in a way that's fair and challenging at the same time?"

He said he has studied schools in Texas and North Carolina that have improved student performances.

Joanne Mead, a music teacher at Clarksville Middle School who was named Howard County Teacher of the Year, was asked by the superintendent to be a member of the committee.

Mead said she is not sure what approach the committee will take, but expects that her expertise is identifying issues.

"I'm well aware of what the problems are," she said, noting that the issues have been festering without coming to much public notice.

After years of rapid growth in Howard County, the differences between older neighborhoods in Columbia, North Laurel and Elkridge and newer areas farther out are more apparent.

The new effort to close gaps and solve school disparities is not a chore, Mead said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Leadership Committee on School Equity

Bill B. Benton and Mary Ellen Duncan, co-chairs.

Jerry Bialecki, PTA.

David Bower, businessman.

Victor Broccolino, hospital president.

Terri Chaconas, Woodbine resident.

Gregory Devou, West Friendship resident.

Tracey Eberhardt, Jessup resident.

Sandra Erickson, school employee.

Pat Flynn, 3rd District council choice.

Martha Johnson, school employee.

Joanne Mead, teacher.

Hans Meeder, 5th District council choice.

Sang Oh, county executive's aide.

Joyce Pope, 1st District council choice.

Mary Kay Sigaty, 4th District council choice.

Gene Shipp, PTSA.

Kathleen Sinkinson, Ellicott City resident.

John Snyder, 2nd District council choice and Sun community columnist.

Joseph Staub, teachers union president.

John S. Whiteside, banker.

Suzanne Whitmore, PTSA.

Natalie Woodson, NAACP.

Columbia Association representative to be named later.

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