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Educators ready for Reno trip

September 30, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education is spending nearly $7,400 to send eight administrators to Reno, Nev., for a national conference, prompting two County Commissioners to question the expense at a time when school officials say funding for education is insufficient.

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The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development is sponsoring the three-day conference, which begins Oct. 11. It will consist of more than 70 sessions with a variety of educational speakers.

The focus of the conference is to improve school success through better assessment.

"This is an opportunity to hear from all the national gurus on assessment," said Deputy Superintendent Theresa Flak.

It is a premier event that will help the School Board handle upcoming state-mandated tests, she said.

"It will help us craft an action plan translated to the school level that will help the kids," Flak said.

High school students eventually will be required to pass standard exams to get diplomas. The assessments, which will replace Maryland Functional Tests, will first affect students who are freshmen in 2001.

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The conference will consider how assessments are used to gauge system, school and student performance. It will address new approaches to learning and teaching, such as the use of technology in curricula.

The conference at the Nugget Hotel costs about $400 per person. Accounting Supervisor David Brandenburg said the School Board has spent $7,382 for flight, accommodation and registration expenses through a Severna Park, Md., travel agency.

County Commissioner William J. Wivell criticized the trip's expense. "I certainly understand the need for professional development, but they need to be somewhat conscientious with taxpayer money," he said.

Instead of sending eight people, the School Board could send two administrators who would share information when they get back, he said.

County Commissioner Paul Swartz agreed, saying training is more valuable when it is shared. He expressed concern that the School Board didn't tell the commissioners about the trip.

Swartz said he made several inquiries about the trip but had received no reply from school officials.

"I think it should be open and shared, not found out through scuttlebutt," he said. "If these trips are valuable, tell us ahead of time so there's no secrecy about it."

Both commissioners suggested the School Board's budget isn't as lean as board members have suggested. "Don't say they have an extremely tight budget," said Swartz.

Earlier this year, the School Board asked for $61 million for the fiscal year that began July 1. The commissioners gave about $59.1 million.

The conference features general sessions such as "Shifting the Paradigm: Using Assessment to Energize the Learning Organizations," "Leading Change in Learning Organizations" and "Using Classroom Assessment to Support Student Learning."

Speakers include Arthur Costa, an emeritus education professor at California State University, Cile Chavez Consulting President Cile Chavez and Center for Leadership and School Reform CEO Phil Schlechty.

Attending with Flak are Director of Elementary Education John Festerman and Director of Secondary Education Boyd Michael III.

Also attending are: Supervisor of Secondary Science Sue Graff, Supervisor of Secondary Mathematics Leslie Hobbs, Supervisor of Social Studies Edward Koogle, Supervisor of Elementary Reading James Newkirk and Supervisor of Secondary Reading Sherry Purkey.

The state-mandated assessments eventually will include math, social studies, science and English. The content supervisors will benefit from the seminars to best prepare students in their areas, Flak said.

Money for the conference comes from the staff development portion of the School Board's budget. Flak said it is an industry standard to dedicate 10 percent of the budget for training. The School Board spends far less than that, she said.

The group will leave at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 10 and will return at 12:19 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 13, to save money, she said. Each person is giving up a day of personal time without pay. Much of the money they will spend will be out-of-pocket, she said.

The conference cannot be replicated locally because the speakers are coming from across the country and Canada, she said.

The topic of assessments is critical and the conference should not be considered out of context, Flak said.

In response to a reporter's inquiry, she wrote, "I can personally see no good coming from the local paper singling out one staff development activity and focusing on it in the absence of the big picture."

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