Officials rack up miles on Day 1 visits to schools

The Baltimore Sun

Students and parents weren't the only ones walking around the hallways with wide eyes Monday.

The first day of classes attracted a slew of visits to schools by top-ranking system administrators, most of whom brought elected officials with them.

"These are stakeholders in our school system; they provide our funding," said spokeswoman Patti Caplan. "We want them to see firsthand how we are using the funds they allocate for education. Plus, it's fun for them to see what is going on in the schools."

Based on the number of schools visited, Del. Guy Guzzone may have had the most fun of any of the elected officials. He was a man on a mission. He showed up at 14 schools, far surpassing the number visited Monday by any other politician in Howard County.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin and Mamie J. Perkins, the school system's chief of staff, accompanied County Executive Ken Ulman and County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, a former school board member, to Mount Hebron High, Centennial High and Burleigh Manor Middle. Cousin and Ulman also went to Centennial Lane Elementary.

Later, Cousin visited Phelps Luck Elementary, Gorman Crossing Elementary and Murray Hill Middle.

"Thank you for your tour of schools on opening day," Watson wrote in a letter to the school system. "It's a wonderful experience to see everything come together for a new beginning on the first day of school. The hard work of teachers, administrative staff, and support personnel was very evident. Many thanks to them for their hard work on behalf of the residents of Howard County."

Roger Plunkett, the school system's business, community, government relations officer, coordinated the visits. He said that the tours are in step with Cousin's vision.

"It shows strong collaboration," Plunkett said. "It is something that the superintendent believes in, and will continue to do throughout the year."

Steve Gibson, principal at Burleigh Manor Middle, said that members of his school were happy to have Cousin and Ulman visit. The two spent a half-hour touring the school, Gibson said.

"Everybody was very excited to have them in the building," Gibson said. The visit meant most to the students, he said. "It's about the kids feeling good."

Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, accompanied County Council Chairman Calvin Ball to Stevens Forest Elementary, Deep Run Elementary, Long Reach High and Bellows Spring Elementary.

"I was very pleased by my visits to our schools on the first day," Ball wrote in a note afterward. "Not only was it very well-planned but, there was such positive energy in each school. However, the special thing was the focus of the energy. In each school there was an importance placed on excellence as well as providing a supportive and nurturing environment. Kudos to the HCPSS team for working to ensure a quality learning and growth experience for all and not merely overall!"

Linda Wise, assistant superintendent for school administration, accompanied County Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a former school board member, to Atholton High, River Hill High, Clarksville Elementary, Clemens Crossing Elementary, Swansfield Elementary, Longfellow Elementary, Cedar Lane School, Wilde Lake Middle and Reservoir High.

Plunkett went with school board member Patricia Gordon to Howard High, Cradlerock School, Clemens Crossing Elementary, Elkridge Elementary, Elkridge Landing Middle and Rockburn Elementary.

Diane Martin, the school system's director of student, family and community services, took Del. Elizabeth Bobo to Bryant Woods Elementary, Running Brook Elementary, Wilde Lake Middle, Wilde Lake High and Harper's Choice Middle.

Marie DeAngelis, director of elementary curricular programs, accompanied Del. Gail H. Bates to Waverly Elementary, St. John's Lane Elementary and Manor Woods Elementary.

Clarissa Evans, director of secondary curricular programs, accompanied school board member Sandra H. French to Folly Quarter Middle, Triadelphia Ridge Elementary, Dayton Oaks Elementary, Dunloggin Middle and Northfield Elementary.

Marion D. Miller, director of 20 elementary schools, accompanied school board member Ellen Flynn Giles to Atholton Elementary, Talbott Springs Elementary, Jeffers Hill Elementary, Thunder Hill Elementary, Hammond Elementary and Hammond Middle.

Dave A. Bruzga, director of 16 secondary schools, accompanied school board Vice Chairman Frank Aquino to Glenelg High, Bushy Park Elementary, Lisbon Elementary and Glenwood Middle.

Daniel J. Michaels, director of 16 secondary schools, accompanied County Councilwoman Jen Terrasa to Guilford Elementary, Hammond High, Forest Ridge Elementary, Gorman Crossing Elementary and Murray Hill Middle.

Terry Alban, director of student assessment and program evaluation, accompanied school board member Janet Siddiqui to Worthington Elementary, Ellicott Mills Middle, Ilchester Elementary, Bonnie Branch Middle and Veterans Elementary.

Ken Roey, director of facilities planning and management, accompanied school board member Larry Cohen to Oakland Mills Middle, Oakland Mills High, Homewood School, Pointers Run Elementary and Clarksville Middle.

As for Guzzone, the enthusiastic delegate went to Bollman Bridge Elementary, Clarksville Elementary, Clarksville Middle, Guilford Elementary, Laurel Woods Elementary, Pointers Run Elementary, Cradlerock School, Lime Kiln Middle, Oakland Mills Middle, Oakland Mills High, Patuxent Valley Middle, Hammond High, Reservoir High and Cedar Lane School. He was accompanied on some of the visits by Earl H. Slacum, director of 21 elementary schools.

Guzzone "has so much energy," Plunkett said.

A good first week

School board Chairman Diane Mikulis said: "I've heard nothing but good things" about the first week of school. "Things were great. Kids were focused, and the buildings looked really good."

Mikulis said the budget process and assessment tests will be major concerns this school year.

She said she also will focus on civility and anti-bullying policies. "We will be looking at our efforts, our programs in those areas," she said. "It's more of an implementation thing."

Mikulis also had a busy first day of the school year, visiting Mount View Middle, Marriotts Ridge High, Mount Hebron High, Hollifield Station Elementary and Patapsco Middle.

Those high HSA scores

Howard County juniors outperformed their Maryland counterparts by as much as 20 percentage points in some cases on the High School Assessments, according to data released by the State Department of Education last week.

Overall, 86.3 percent of the Class of 2009 in Howard County passed the algebra test; 82.3 percent passed the biology test; 83.1 percent passed the English test; and 83.8 percent passed the government test.

"We are very pleased that our pass rates are all approaching 90 percent," Cousin said. "Even more gratifying is the fact that every student group improved their performance on each test. Our teachers and students are to be commended for this fine showing."

Statewide, 68 percent of students passed the English test; 77 percent passed the algebra test; 71 percent passed the government test; and 62 percent passed the biology test.

"The pass rates for the Class of 2009 are positive," Cousin said in a statement. "Students can retake the tests if they don't pass the first administration, and we have a number of students, who for one reason or another, have not taken tests yet. I am confident that by 2009, the large majority of our students will have passed."

Initially, the HSAs were going to be a graduation requirement starting with the Class of 2009.

But on Tuesday, Maryland schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said that students who repeatedly fail the exams should be allowed to complete a senior project instead.

Howard County officials point to programs and interventions that they say have resulted in the superior scores.

Outreach programs that have stressed the importance of HSAs have been offered to the Korean community, the Hispanic community, the Arabic-speaking community and to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

In addition, the school system offered intervention programs at the middle school and high school level, and high schools have offered a half-credit High School Assessment mastery course.

First week with buses

Missed buses, late arrivals and crowded spaces.

David Drown, the system's director of pupil transportation, hears it all the first few weeks of school.

With 40,000 students riding 450 buses, Drown expects a few roadblocks this time of year.

Surprisingly, Drown said the first week of school was relatively problem-free.

"This year was better than last year as far as coverage of routes," Drown said.

Last year, Howard County had a shortage of 20 bus drivers. This year, that number was down to eight. "We are better than last year, but we would like to have more folks than we have," he said.

At Atholton High, parents received a letter from the school administration that shared concerns of crowding and late arrivals and pickups.

Drown said he was not aware of problems at Atholton.

"I do not doubt that we have overloads, and those buses might be two of them," he said.

Drown plans to analyze data provided by individual schools that show the number of students who ride the bus. The data will allow Drown to make changes to bus schedules and the number of students assigned to a bus.

Drown encouraged parents and students to be patient in the beginning weeks of school.

"During the first week of school things work very slow," Drown said. "It takes a long time to load and unload a bus.

"All types of things can go wrong, and they do."

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