Two sixth-graders at Cradlerock School showed poise and promise this week when they gave a PowerPoint presentation to the Board of Education about their activities during the school year, in which they were able to identify a mysterious structure in back of their school.
Ceaira Thomas and Alisa Metzger, two of the pupils in Cara Cassell's sixth-grade gifted-and-talented class, informed the board that they had taken on the role of archaeologists in learning that the 8-foot-high, 4-foot-wide, 5-foot-long structure was a springhouse -- a building used for an early form of refrigeration.
Board members learned that 30 pupils in both of Cassell's classes spent most of the year examining the site, interviewing neighbors, analyzing census data from the 1920s, working with planning and zoning officials, brainstorming with historians, tracking down descendants and visiting gravesites.
Fred Dorsey, whose family owned the land on which the springhouse sits, also spoke to the board about the importance of the youths' work.
"It was my pleasure to work with them," said Dorsey, who works for Preservation Howard County. "It was just amazing to see the excitement and enthusiasm of these kids. I hope this appreciation will carry forward when they become adults."
Board members praised the pupils for their presentation.
"It looks like you did some great work," said board Chairman Joshua Kaufman.
Patricia Gordon also said she was impressed with the work, and suggested that the pupils look at History Detectives, a PBS program that explores historical mysteries, local folklore and family legends.
Although Maryland State Assessment results were released last week for elementary and middle schools, the list of schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, will not be available until after the state has processed all of the appeal requests from each school system, Howard officials said.
The appeals are due by July 12. Last year, the state received more than 1,100 appeals, according to the state. The Howard school system filed five appeals, and all were granted.
Terry Alban, Howard's director of student assessment and program evaluation, said that the delay this year was because of the large number of inaccuracies surrounding schools that were on the failing-schools list last year.
For example, coding errors led state education officials to incorrectly add Homewood School to the list of failing schools for the second year in a row last June.
"We got that straightened out," Alban said.
Alban also said the system would not receive results from the High School Assessments, or HSAs, until the end of August.
The HSAs, which will be a graduation requirement for current freshman, are another form of high-stakes assessment tests.
HSAs are used with several other factors, including attendance and graduation rates to determine AYP. Adequate yearly progress is a yardstick under the federal No Child Left Behind Act used to determine whether parents can transfer their children to higher-performing schools. AYP can also affect federal funding.
School administrators, teachers, and other school staff members gathered last week at Marriotts Ridge High School for workshops, discussions and speakers at the Summer Institute for School Improvement.
The institute included workshops on student poverty, obstacles faced by African-American males in math proficiency and managing aggressive behavior.
"What we've been focusing on this year is knowing our learner and helping our education staff understand the students coming into our schools," said spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "This is an end-of-the-year focus on that."
Jason McCoy, principal of Cradlerock School, said he was excited about taking a group of teachers to the institute.
"It's an opportunity to plan for the upcoming school year," said McCoy, who completed his first year as principal at Cradlerock.
Cynthia H. Hankin, principal of Thunder Hill Elementary, who will be the new principal at Deep Run Elementary, starting July 1, saw it as an opportunity to forge bonds with new staff members.
"That's where we will kick-start school improvement next year," Hankin explained. "This gets everybody together. We begin to look at achieving our goals."
Just because they have been given the green light to wear campaign paraphernalia does not mean that candidates have shown up at school board meetings decked out in buttons and armed with brochures.
"I'll think about it," said board hopeful Larry Cohen. "Now the question is, is it appropriate?"
Courtney Watson, a current board member who is also running as a Democratic candidate for a Howard County Council seat, said she does not plan to wear any campaign paraphernalia while attending board meetings.
"When I am performing my function as a member of the Board of Education, I feel that it is important to be nonpartisan when carrying out those duties," Watson said. "As long as I am carrying out duties for the Board of Education, I won't campaign for the County Council."
The "Buttongate" controversy stemmed from a January incident during which Tony Salazar, a County Council candidate running against Watson, was asked to remove a campaign button during a board hearing. Salazar was informed that campaign paraphernalia was prohibited at the meetings.
Salazar, a Republican candidate in District 1, covering Elkridge and Ellicott City, challenged the rule and asked for a legal opinion. Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin had the issue researched and discovered that Salazar is correct.