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Schools chief adds to Cabinet


In a surprising move, Howard County Schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke added a position to his Cabinet of advisers last night, appointing Wilde Lake High School Principal Roger Plunkett assistant superintendent for school administration.

In that position, Plunkett, 45, will be responsible for the daily operation of all the county's 67 schools, including school organization and management and the implementation of instructional programs.

He also will supervise and evaluate all the school building administrators in the county.

Simply put, said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan: "All of the principals will report to Roger now instead of to John. As it is right now, John was responsible for 80-some people."

As O'Rourke's new right-hand man, Plunkett will serve as the superintendent's representative when O'Rourke is unavailable or where O'Rourke deems it necessary.

Now, three people serve in O'Rourke's cabinet: Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations; Maurice F. Kalin, associate superintendent for planning and support services; and Sandra J. Erickson, associate superintendent for instructional services.

Kalin announced his retirement last month, and Erickson has asked to be reassigned to be able to spend more time with family. So O'Rourke will be looking to fill two of those posts over the summer.

Out of 17 applications for the newest position, Plunkett "came through not just fine, but in exemplary fashion," O'Rourke said.

Plunkett started with the school system in 1977 as an English teacher at Howard High School. In 1989, he moved to Hammond High as assistant principal. Since 1994, Plunkett has been principal at Wilde Lake High. Although he was lauded for his work at all three schools, it was his turn-around of Wilde Lake High School that earned Plunkett the most notice.

Since his arrival at Columbia's oldest high school, students, teachers and staff members have said the school is cleaner, safer and more focused on learning. Dropout and suspension rates are down; attendance and SAT scores are up.

Reached by telephone late last night, Plunkett said he would miss the students and staff at Wilde Lake, but was excited about his new challenges.

"I think we have developed some programs here, some academic support programs to narrow the performance gaps between high- and low-achieving students," Plunkett said. "And now we can do that across the county.

"Here at Wilde Lake, we underwent tremendous change and enormous growth, and that is going on across the county now," he said. "My job is to make sure we are consistent and focused on instruction at every level."

The new position, which pays $115,000, begins July 1.

O'Rourke did not say who would replace Plunkett at Wilde Lake.

Also last night, the school board heard a report from Howard County Education Association President Joseph Staub regarding teachers' satisfaction with their jobs and the school system.

Staub said that although 93 percent of teachers who responded to a March Job Satisfaction Survey said they felt successful in their work, many said they feel more valued by the community than they do by the school system.

"The most dramatic conclusion to be drawn from this year's survey is the consistency of the results over the last three years," Staub told the board. "Where we have gaps, certainly, the staff is saying there are problems there that we need to address."

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