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Education plan attracts support

September 17, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Four people voiced support for the Washington County school system's comprehensive plan to improve education during a sparsely attended hearing Wednesday night.

About 35 people, most of whom are running for public office or served on the steering committee that wrote the report, attended the first of two public hearings.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. interpreted the small attendance as a sign that the community widely accepts the strategic plan, which was developed in response to a stinging curriculum audit released last year.

"I don't know that it's terribly unusual. We tried to distribute it," Bartlett said in an interview after the hearing. "There was very little suggestion or comment for corrections.

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"I think we've got a real feel for the community," he said.

The few who did speak praised the plan. Teresa Dumpe, a parent and a member of the Salem Avenue Elementary School citizens advisory committee, largely endorsed the report but asked that school officials consider returning the fifth grade to the school.

The fifth grade was transferred to Western Heights Middle School in 1989.

"I beg, I wholeheartedly request, the committee will consider bringing the fifth grade back," said Dumpe, who served on the facilities subcommittee.

John Schnebly, a Washington County Commissioners candidate, said he hopes the school board uses the report to address deficiencies in the school system.

"I am very disturbed by the trend where we have two school systems, one for the haves and one for the have-nots," he said.

Terri Williamson, a parent activist who served on the assessment subcommittee, suggested officials review progress on the report's implementation more often and take better advantage of area colleges.

"The school districts (in Pennsylvania) use Shippensburg University as a resource," she said. "I don't know if we do that in Washington County If we do, it's a well-kept secret."

One of chief concerns expressed about the report is whether it will be used.

"I would be very disappointed to see it collect dust, and I don't think that will happen," said Jenny Belliotti, president of the Washington County Council of PTAs and a member of the policy subcommittee.

The plan lays out recommendations, complete with time lines and estimated costs.

The latter part eventually could spark debate. The plan estimates that correcting deficiencies such as inadequate facilities, inferior technology and insufficient staff development will cost an additional $13 million over the next five years.

But Bartlett made it clear he prefers to focus on building consensus for the goals before fighting for dollars. He said the school board has enjoyed a "better-than-good relationship with the County Commissioners over the last 12 months.

"I'm confident they will be supportive," he said.

The public will get another chance to comment on the strategic plan tonight at 7 p.m. at Clear Spring High School before the steering committee finalizes the document.

After that, members of the Washington County Board of Education will receive it on Oct. 20, and, if they approve it, will prepare to implement the first year of the plan.

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