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Commit to educate, speaker tells staff

August 24, 1999

Thomas ToddBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photos: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




America is not committed to education but teachers must be, a Chicago lawyer told school workers during a convocation ceremony Tuesday.

Part pep rally, part orientation, the kickoff event of the academic year drew 2,400 of the Washington County school system's staff, according to Executive Director of Support Services William McKinley.

North Hagerstown High School's auditorium was filled with teachers, principals, secretaries, bus drivers and other employees for sessions in the morning and afternoon.

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Thomas Todd, the convocation's guest speaker, often represents education officials in court and his wife has been a teacher for 20 years, Evelyn Williams, the 1999 teacher of the year, said.

Licensed to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, Todd pleaded a different kind of case Tuesday: The importance of public education.

"Education has always made the difference," said Todd, who described his youth in Alabama and his experience in public schools.

ConvocationIn a talk that ended with a standing ovation, he reminded the audience that rocket scientists and brain surgeons began as students. "Long before they became what they are, some teacher touched their minds," he said.

Todd criticized a culture he said values celebrity more than learning. He said school systems must struggle for adequate funding. America has the money, he said, but gives it to movie stars and athletes.

"There is no national will to educate all the children," he said. "America is consistently inconsistent."

If children were an endangered species, the government would help them more, he said. "We recycle paper and plastic and we throw away children," Todd said.

No one should say, "I'm just a teacher," he said. "You are not just teaching the children, you are saving lives."

Todd urged teachers to believe their profession is prestigious and important. "People who teach control the world's destiny," he said.

The Washington County Board of Education paid Todd $3,000 plus travel expenses to speak at both of Tuesday's sessions, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Theresa Flak said.

The convocation included a performance by North High's choir, band and cheerleaders. Flak, Williams, School Board President Edwin Hayes and Washington County Teachers Association President Sharon Chirgott were among the speakers.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. recalled his own history in a speech he titled, "We are what we teach."

Children absorb a teacher's opinions, hopes, fears and morality, he said.

"You will teach them the joys and wonders of learning only if you enjoy learning," Bartlett said.

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