After 26 years in education, Kathleen White is trying out a new role as matchmaker linking businesses and community organizations with schools in western Baltimore County.
"I know that principals say that they can use extra hands and extra resources to help children succeed. ... There are schools that are not having the success they could be in the [northwest] area, which has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the state," said White, a community activist who lives in Randallstown.
This summer, White organized the Baltimore County Education Forum, a collaborative effort involving teachers, parents, students and community organizations that is aimed at providing financial and volunteer support to the county's public schools.
The group's approximately 20 members have been meeting weekly and plan to arrange a mentoring program linking schools in the western part of the county with businesses and fraternal organizations oriented toward community service, including Delta Sigma Theta and Zeta Phi Beta.
White also hopes to set up parent volunteer centers in schools to ease parents' apprehensions about volunteering.
"Kathleen is very committed to what she is doing, and she is going about this the right way, working within the system to achieve her goals," said Del. Adrienne A. Jones, a Randallstown Democrat who is an adviser to the forum.
White envisions implementing her ideas in schools in the northwest and southwest first, creating a model that could eventually be duplicated throughout the county.
The forum's third meeting, held late last month at Milford Mill Academy, gave principals an opportunity to outline their wish lists for the organization.
Delvin Burton, assistant principal at Deer Park Magnet Middle School, said he hopes that some of the mentors will be able to help pupils in the school's "books for boys" program, which provides the pupils with reading materials that appeal to them.
"If we could get a few adults who could read the books with the boys and discuss them, then they would have some good role models for reading," Burton said.
Nathaniel Gibson, principal of Milford Mill Academy, said he wants to find internships for students at local businesses.
"We're looking at giving our kids a purpose for being here every day, show them the connection between the skills they're learning in school and the ones they'll need in the real world," Gibson said.
White said she hopes the forum can help the principals find money and volunteers for such projects. On Aug. 2, the forum held its first flea market, in the parking lot of Milford Mill Academy, and raised $500 for the school.
"We need to identify what grants would be available, what local businesses can contribute. ... It's just a matter of giving back to the community schools," White said.
Henry Weisenberg, executive director of the Liberty Road Business Association, said local businesses are "very concerned about the quality of area schools" because so many students become summer or temporary employees.
Weisenberg, who worked with the Prince George's County superintendent's advisory committee for business and industry, said at the meeting last month that he was willing to go into schools and talk about careers.
"We need human resources more than anything," said Burton. "The more individuals that we can get coming into our school to help out, the more we can do for our children."
White said the response to the forum from businesses and organizations has been overwhelmingly positive.
"They have been absolutely elated to be able to help," White said. "They have been like, 'Oh, my gosh, where have you been all these years?'"