Hairston tells educators to look to kids' future

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston urged educators yesterday to think of new ways to teach, saying obsolete approaches threaten to leave students poorly prepared for an increasingly competitive job market.

"We are educating our students for the future in school systems based on outdated concepts," Hairston said in his back-to-school address to hundreds of school officials yesterday at Loch Raven High School. "We must look for ways ... to meet the needs of students today."

Hairston offered few specifics, but in an interview afterward, he called the 180-day school year outmoded. He said a number of proposals, including some calling for an extended school year, are "in a conceptual stage" but that nothing would be instituted without community and teacher support.

County schools are scheduled to open Aug. 27 with an enrollment of more than 105,000 students. For the first time, teachers throughout the system will have the option of tracking students' progress on augmented report cards that would include checklists of skills.

Hairston, head of the nation's 24th-largest school system, titled his seventh back-to-school speech "One Message, One Mission: Common Sense Leadership," and, like previous addresses, his remarks seemed largely designed to motivate educators.

His remarks come months after an independent audit found major problems in the school curriculum, including a lack of guidance for teachers who are inundated with new programs. In response, the school system has hired a chief academic officer and awarded a $7.4 million contract to a national firm to overhaul the curriculum.

Hairston did not mention the audit during his address yesterday but called for administrators, principals and teachers to work more closely together.

Hairston spoke in broad themes, focusing partly on an increasingly global economy. During a recent trip to China, he said, he stopped at an airport snack bar and noticed that some of the condiments were made by American companies, including Hunt Valley-based McCormick and Co. Inc. The experience illustrated how more and more, "our lives are now intertwined."

But he warned that "the very technology that has brought us together also threatens to leave us behind." He said educators must prepare students for different types of jobs and technology that have yet to be created by increasing "rigor" and eliminating "low-level courses."

Referring to the system's 8,000 teachers, Hairston said, "Your connection to students is at the heart of the educational process and the heart of the school system."

Hairston ended his address surrounded by about a dozen students on the stage.

County Teacher of the Year Robin August called the speech "invigorating."

"We have to reach every single child and have expectations that every child can tap their potential," said August, a sixth-grade math teacher at Deep Creek Middle School in Essex.

In an interview after the speech, Hairston said that with children learning more rapidly than in previous generations, a longer school year might make sense.

"Kids can get instant information and synthesize it and put it into practice and gain more knowledge in a matter of hours," he said.

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