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A head for figures, yes, but a heart for students?

May 23, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

By putting an arts and academics magnet program proposed for Hagerstown's Fountaindale Elementary School on hold, the Washington County School Board was being fiscally prudent, for which they deserve the community's thanks. But a lack of money does not absolve the board from its responsibility to do something about the high concentration of poor children at Fountaindale.

The accepted measure of poverty in schools is the percentage of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches. In December, school system figures showed that Fountaindale's percentage was 61 percent, compared to 33.1 percent at Potomac Heights. Nearby Paramount's percentage was even smaller..

And yet, when the board had a chance to improve the economic mix of students through redistricting, in support of their own policy and state law, they declined to do so. Alternatives advanced included the magnet schools and a proposal for "sister schools."

The "sister schools" concept has been around since 1994 and was a staple of the joint campaign of School Board Members Bernadette Wagner and Roxanne Ober. In it, one school would house kindergarten through second grade, while another would be for grades 3-5.

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Ober and Wagner argued in 2000 that the program would allow "teachers to customize programs, concentrate materials and resources and focus on students in a narrower age range," all for the same amount of money being spent on traditional school alignments.

However, Interim School Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan decided that rather than forcing students to change schools, she'd give them an incentive to do so - the program now on hold for budgetary reasons.

We understand the board's reasoning in delaying that program until cash is available, but two board members have an alternative they say will cost no more that the present system does.

Based on research cited in The Chicago Tribune last year, such a mix would improve impoverished students' ability to learn without hurting high-income students' performance.

Again, we congratulate the board members for showing us they have a head for figures. Now we ask them to demonstrate that they have a heart for students.

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