Covered in a white cloth, Scott Conroy sat inside a small television studio yesterday morning and clenched a bottled water as a nervous smile spread across his face. The buzzing sound of electric clippers hinted what was to happen next.
"I don't like the sound of that," said Conroy, a 37-year-old second-year principal at Wilde Lake Middle School, as Todd Hrico inched the clippers closer to Conroy's moderate-length brown hair.
Three weeks ago, Conroy promised to shave off his hair if at least 95 percent of the 501 students at his Columbia school showed up for the four days of Maryland School Assessment testing. Students met the challenge -- attendance peaked to 99 percent on Wednesday -- and Conroy was ready for his new look. The haircut was shown live on the school's closed-circuit television system.
"A little off the top?" Hrico, a second-year music teacher, asked jokingly as he closed in on Conroy's scalp.
Hrico, who also is a dog groomer, said he was chosen to cut Conroy's head because he "had the equipment."
Educators believe students score higher if they take the assessment tests -- given to third- through eighth-graders covering math and reading -- on the day it is scheduled instead of on a makeup day.
"We wanted something to spark interest of kids, staff and parents," Conroy said. "It is important that they are here for the test."
The MSA is important, especially at the middle-school level. The tests are used in part to determine "adequate yearly progress," the yardstick under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
AYP is used to determine whether children can transfer to higher-performing schools. It also can affect federal funding to schools.
As Hrico went about his task yesterday, a small group of students in the room laughed, gasped and threw in an occasional "ooh."
Ravin Cunningham, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, jokingly asked for a piece of Conroy's hair as a keepsake.
"That's going to take forever to grow back," she said.
Hajur El-Haggan, a 12-year-old seventh-grader who was operating the camera used to broadcast the transformation, used the event to remind her principal of the school's rules.
"No hats are allowed in school," she said, as Hrico buzzed off patches of hair from Conroy's head.
"I'm never going to forget this," Hajur said later.
Conroy's mother, Beverly, a retired Howard County teacher, watched in amazement as the last pieces of hair dropped to the floor.
"When he was a baby he lost his hair for a while, but he's always had hair," she said, as she stood next to Conroy's father, Richard. "It's amazing that a principal would do this."
When Hrico was finished, he poured a little powder on Conroy's head and told him to rub it into his scalp.
"This will prevent razor burn," he explained.
After brushing hair from his white polo shirt, Conroy was ready to face his students.
"Woo!" Conroy exclaimed as he rubbed his head.
As Conroy walked down the hallway toward the school's main office, classrooms erupted in applause as students caught a glimpse of his new look.
La'Britt Brown, a 15-year-old eighth grader, yelled out: "Don't he look like Uncle Fester?"
La'Britt's teacher, Stephanie Kolliegbo, said that Conroy reminder her of singer Elton John.
Kim Mahle, the school's assistant principal who interrupted her maternity leave to watch the haircut, said some students thought Conroy's new look resembled actor Vin Diesel -- a thought that was not shared by Kolliegbo's class.
"Everybody needs a little motivation," Mahle said. "To get Mr. Conroy to shave his head was enough motivation to get the kids to show up and take the test."