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Letters to the Editor

The Baltimore Sun

Howard High School principal is praised

I was sorry to read the claims of low job satisfaction at Howard High School in your May 27 article ("Howard High low in job satisfaction"), not because I sympathize with the dissatisfied staff, but because they suggest how much work there is yet to be done at the school.

Our oldest child just graduated from Howard, and the difference between the school that he entered and what Howard is today is like night and day. We admire the work Ms. Regina Massella has done as principal. Her efforts to showcase academic achievement, such as introducing the AP Scholars program and awarding "varsity" letters to Honor Roll students, stress that the primary value of the school is learning.

Surely, some of her initiatives have met with resistance among a subset of the staff and might have cost her a high political price, but they were done to improve the education of our children and are appreciated by families like ours.

As far as your article itself goes, I think it is important to note that all statistics are given in terms of percentages, e.g. "fifty-six percent of Howard High employees responding to the 2006-2007 survey said." The article cites neither the number of individuals that responded to the survey nor the size of the staff at Howard High. This makes it impossible to understand whether the various percentages represent the opinion of the entire staff of the school or just a small group of individuals who chose to respond to the survey. There is no way to tell from the information given.

What I can tell you without hesitation is that during our visits to Howard in the last couple of years, we have sensed a much happier and more confident atmosphere throughout the building than we did during our first year there.

Our family believes that Ms. Massella is moving the school in the right direction although she has much more work to do and many more attitudes to change among teachers, staff and families. We hope she is successful in pushing everyone to do their best, perhaps even more than they might have planned to do.

Bernadette Tutinas Ellicott City

Massella has raised expectations

I would like to respond to the article in The Sun regarding the staff morale at Howard High posted this past weekend. I am a parent of two Howard High students, a junior and a graduating senior. My daughter was a student at Howard under both the former principal and Gina Massella. I feel I am in a position to make a comparison of the changes and impact on my children as well as the overall morale that I have observed at the school.

Ms. Massella has brought a level of accountability to Howard that was sorely missing. Prior to her arrival, several of the major academic departments at Howard High were in shambles. Many very important classes were barely being taught and there appeared to be little response by the leadership to the poor performance of several of the department head staff or the low scores of the students. I had seriously thought about pulling my children out of the Howard County public school system. With further thought, however, I decided to give a new principal a chance to make a difference. And I am glad I did.

The person at the top sets the pace of work and the expectations. Ms. Massella has raised the expectations and pulled the standards way up, as evidenced by the tremendous improvement in student performance, as the article points out.

Ms. Massella is a very serious, firm and hardworking leader and interestingly, both my children highly respect her and appreciate that she has done great things for the school. They see her as invested, caring and fair. The number of hugs she got from the students at graduation was impressive, and I think that says something about how the students regard her.

Regarding the request for transfers, according to the article, there are four high schools with higher requests than Howard. I'm not clear what the issue is here.

I am not a teacher, and I have no idea what the experience is from their perspective. But clearly the transition to working for Ms. Massella is a significant one when one considers the drastic change between how the classes and programs operated prior to her arrival and how things work now.

Whenever new leadership comes into an organization, there is reaction and resistance. That is to be expected. I do think that communication between the staff and administration is critical to long term success, and if that is lacking, then it is prudent for Ms. Massella to address this. ... And it sounds like she has put in place mechanisms to improve this. No one likes change, particularly if it means more work or harder work. I suspect Gina Massella expects both from her staff. Our children have benefited immensely.

Regarding morale of the teachers, if they are unhappy, they do a great job of hiding it. I work very closely with the instrumental music program at the school and see enthusiasm and encouragement. I see very strong ties between the staff and the PTSA, and I see a very high level of participation in student activities by the staff. I have also seen terrific coaching of the cross country and track teams, It's Academic, and the dance teams, with staff who are highly invested and obviously like what they do.

Gina Massella is clearly a very dedicated, hardworking and serious principal -- and one that Howard High desperately needs.

Jill RachBeisel Ellicott City

Article leaves many displeased

I am writing to address the missing facts from the article "Howard High low in job satisfaction." which appeared on Sunday.

Members of the Howard High School community are not happy with the article, which highlighted some negative results of the December 2006 Job Satisfaction Survey taken by some members of the HCEA. The article had a negative slant against the administration of Howard High School. Some of the survey numbers were excluded from the article, leaving readers to form a conclusion based on only those figures that the writer chose to include.

The Howard High article indicated that 5,500 employees across the county are represented by the HCEA. Yet the smaller article on page 3G in "Education Notebook" listed the number of union-represented staff as 6,300. This article did not state the number of staff that work at Howard High, or the number that are union members and therefore eligible to participate in the survey. The Howard High article did not state the number (or percentage) of eligible union members who actually completed the survey.

Without knowing the above facts and figures, readers cannot draw a valid conclusion from the information as written. The phrase "Sixty-four percent disagreed that morale was good" actually tells the reader nothing. Sixty-four percent of 10 responses suggest a very different atmosphere in which to work and to learn at Howard High than if the results represented 64 percent of 100 responses.

This article has upset many in the Howard community. Hopefully The Sun will choose to publish the rest of the facts about this issue.

One further comment relates to the untimely position of this story, just two days after Howard's graduation ceremony. It was various discourteous to laud the success of another school's graduation ceremony directly above the disparaging remarks about Howard High. Howard's festivities occurred on the same day as River Hill's. There were hundreds of proud parents, friends and family members in attendance to celebrate the academic success of our 314 graduates.

Susan R. Webber Ellicott City

Article's content, placement criticized

As I wake up with many family members visiting from out of town after a night of celebrating the graduation of my oldest daughter from Howard High School, I open the paper and see a very negative article regarding the school.

Who chooses when items are printed? Above the article is a picture of some of River Hill's graduating class and then a headline that reads "Howard High low in job satisfaction." This was an article that was printed in poor taste.

Many families are celebrating their child's graduation with extended family members, and they have to look at something like that. So what is the lowest school? We moved into this school district because of the schools and have been very happy to be a part of Howard High School.

I also have a son that will be attending there as a freshman in the fall, and what do you think his reaction is to this article? It certainly wasn't positive. What other problems are there in county schools?

What a way to take away from something that my child worked four years to get. She is attending a very prestigious college in the fall, and many teachers at Howard helped her get to where she needed to be.

I have another son who will be attending Howard in three years, and I would not move or send my child to a private school.

Luckily, as the article stated, our scores are up, which indicates the teachers are doing their job. The school has already suffered some bad press with an incident several weeks ago regarding a guidance counselor, so I'm very unhappy with The Sun printing an article like this less than 48 hours after a grand celebration that would allow the seniors to put it all behind them.

This article certainly made me consider if The Sun is a paper I want at my doorstep every morning when I feel the disappointment that I feel right now.

Cindy Nicodemus Ellicott City

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