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Reviews mixed on cost of motivational speaker

August 28, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

A motivational speaker who kicked off the school year for Washington County school employees cost $5,000, an expense that many staff members found worthwhile but some deemed unnecessary.

Former Washington, D.C., schools superintendent Floretta Dukes McKenzie spoke to about 2,300 staff members Monday about "How We Can Make a Difference."

Her speech was part of a schoolwide convocation, something that had not been done in Washington County before Herman G. Bartlett Jr. took over as schools superintendent.

Bartlett, who was hired in November, said he wanted to bring everyone together to start the school year as a team. In the past, groups of employees met separately for orientation and usually didn't have a motivational speaker.

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"It's just normal most places. I don't think I know any other way to do it," he said.

Bartlett said he was trying to bridge the gap between the central office and the schools. That gap was one criticism contained in last year's audit of the school system.

Teachers and other staff members said they liked the convocation and were roused by McKenzie's speech.

"I think she rekindled our interest in things we kind of forget about," said Kurt Widmann, band director at North Hagerstown High.

"I think it's probably long overdue. You need inspiration. It's nice to have a send-off," said Marva Davis, head teacher at Marshall Street School.

But some teachers complained, off-the-record, that the convocation was a waste of time.

"If they really want to motivate me, give me my textbooks," said a North Hagerstown High teacher who didn't want to be named for fear of losing his job.

The teacher said there were not enough textbooks for every student in his classroom.

Another North High employee said that although McKenzie gave a good talk, Washington County can't afford such luxuries.

One teacher said she had only two dictionaries in her classroom.

Others said they were too bogged down with getting ready for classes to start on Monday to enjoy the speech.

"The whole time I was there I just kept thinking about all the work I had to do at school," said Lee Brooks, instructional assistant at South Hagerstown High.

When asked if the $5,000 was justified, Brooks said, "No comment."

Sherri Jones, a South High math teacher, said $5,000 is a reasonable fee for an educator of McKenzie's caliber.

"You get what you pay for," Jones said.

School Board member Edwin Hayes said the convocation was rewarding.

"If you want to treat your teachers like professionals, which they are, I don't think the cost is too high," he said.

School spokeswoman Donna Messina could not give a total cost for the convocation because the bills for the refreshments - coffee, soft drinks, cookies and pastries - were still coming in.

The Ramada Inn charged a $600 rental fee, she said.

Because everyone could not fit in the hotel at one time, there were two sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

McKenzie charged $5,000, according to Frank Finan, director of curriculum and staff development.

With more than 40 years in education, McKenzie is chairman and chief executive officer of The McKenzie Group Inc., an educational consulting firm.

She sits on the board of directors for Marriott Corp., National Geographic Society and Potomac Electric Power Co. (PEPCO).

Earlier this year, she spoke at the National Science Teachers Convention and the National School Board Association conference.

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