Committee tackles schools report

April 05, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Nearly 100 school officials, parents and business leaders have kicked off an ambitious effort to analyze Washington County's school system and come up with recommendations to address shortcomings contained in a stinging report last September.

Officials, who have broken the system down into 10 major areas, hope to see a final report in time for the next budget cycle in October.

"We're going to feel our way along because it's something new," said Michael G. Callas, co-chairman of the task force. "We want to end up with the best school system in the county and state."

Callas, president of Callas Contractors in Hagerstown, is one of several members of the business community tapped for the effort.

The other co-chair, Theresa M. Flak, assistant superintendent of instruction, said the timetable is tight. But she said it is important to have a long-range plan in place by October so school officials can link needs to specific budget requests.


The emphasis on the budget, however, has drawn criticism from at least one Washington County commissioner.

"The ultimate conclusion is, 'How do we get more money?' That's a fallacy of the process," said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, who sits on the subcommittee examining the curriculum. "If that's the philosophy going into it, it's not going to work."

Bowers said the planning group should focus on examining the system's problems and deciding how to fix them without committing to such a tight timeline.

"A lot of times when there are hurried-up time schedules, the impact and influence of the people on the committee aren't factored in," he said.

School officials insist that will not be the case with this process. They said they included as diverse a group as possible because they want to build a consensus from which meaningful reform can take hold.

"I really believe we've turned the corner on the budget process," said Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. "What we've done in the past is thrown a whole smorgasbord of issues at the commissioners without regard to priorities."

The committee was formed in part to address deficiencies in the school system identified by an educational consulting firm that examined the system last April.

Phi Delta Kappa's 177-page report called the system's organizational structure "dysfunctional" and criticized shortcomings in curriculum development and use, high dropout rates among blacks and others and infrequent use of computers in the classroom.

Committee members met last week to begin tackling those issues.

Ten subcommittees will meet this month to deal with policy, technology, budget, equity, curriculum, assessment, staff development, organization, facilities and governance.

Flak said all of the group's members have been given copies of the curriculum audit as a starting point. In addition, she said the school system will provide them with other relevant information.

For instance, she said the policy subcommittee will be given a list of the systems policies. The facilities subcommittee will examine demographic information and growth projections.

Flak also stressed the importance of community input.

In addition to hearings in September to comment on proposed recommendations, Flak said the system has hired a marketing firm to conduct a telephone survey and form focus groups.

"We don't want this process to be shrouded in secrecy or exclusive," she said.

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