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Nicewarner ready for fresh start with board

June 30, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

After the Washington County Blue Ribbon Redistricting Committee completed its work - and the School Board tossed aside many of its recommendations - committee co-chair Scott Nicewarner wrote a letter to the editor that led me to conclude he was either going to do battle with the system, or walk away from any involvement with it.

To my surprise, the incoming president of the Washington County Council of PTAs doesn't seem ready to do either of those things. During an interview this week, he even expressed understanding for the School Board's difficult position, and the hope that PTA, teachers and administrators would improve their working relationship.

A little lingering irritation on redistricting would have been understandable, since the 37-year-old Nicewarner has two children who came through Bester Elementary, one of several city schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families.

The School Board had a chance to improve that economic balance, but, after going eyeball-to-eyeball with parents who opposed such transfers, board members blinked. Nicewarner said, however, that the experience gave him a greater appreciation of how difficult the School Board's job is.

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"We (on the redistricting committee) had to deal with it for four months. They have to deal with it for four years," he said.

Though he was disappointed in some of the outcomes of that effort, he says it won't prevent him from working cooperatively with the board in the future.

"That's in the past now. It's behind us and it's time to move forward," he said.

Though much of the county council's policy will be set by an executive committee that will meet in July, Nicewarner said his own "hot topic" will be encouraging parent involvement.

"We want to make sure parents have a lot of information on how things are going to affect their kids. We want to make sure parents understand the issues and get involved," he said.

I told Nicewarner that it's my impression from talking to parents over the years that the school system has been far more willing to accept parents' labor - as chaperones on field trips, for example - than input on school policy.

There is a stereotype about PTAs, Nicewarner said, that associates them with bake sales and other fund-raisers.

"But that's only a part of it," Nicewarner said.

Two of the members of the group that developed President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" strategy were PTA members, while the immediate past president of the Maryland PTA sat on the Thornton Commission, which recommended more state spending on education.

"The more information people can get on county-wide issues, the more credibility they can get," he said.

If you could only accomplish one thing in the next year, what would it be?

Nicewarner said he would like to improve the relationship between the county council and the individual PTAs.

He'd be happy, Nicewarner said, if he could hear that because of what county PTA had done, membership and participation increased in the local units.

How would you convince parents to get involved?

"I'm not sure, but the bottom line is to show them that there's a value for getting involved," he said.

But PTA will deal with more than parents' concerns, Nicewarner said, adding that he plans to meet monthly with the Washington County Teachers Association and representatives of the schools' support staff.

"I think it needs to be a team effort. Problems can be solved if we all sit down and have dialogue and work through them," he said.

And speaking of sit-down dialogues, even though Nicewarner had been in PTA for more than 10 years before taking his current post, he said he had to consider the effect of the new post's many meetings on his wife and children.

"It was a discussion to have with my family," Nicewarner said, adding that they concluded that although he might occasionally miss one of his children's sports games or other activities, the family agreed that the good he could do would make his absence acceptable.

"PTA is, in my opinion, the children's advocacy group," he said.

"I've grown up through my life in an educational family and I know how hard my family has worked to promote education," he said. Now it's his turn.

"We've got a lot of bright kids who have a lot of bright futures," he said.

In Nicewarner, School Board members have an opportunity to work with someone who's not only willing to forgive them for their past mistakes, but who's also an advocate for schools that some people denigrate with terms like "inner city." I'm less worried about whether he's up to the challenge than whether they are.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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