Why I'm running

October 18, 2003|by W. Edward Forrest

Four years ago I announced my candidacy for the Board of Education of Washington County. My decision to run was based on three broad overarching priorities that I felt would strengthen our school system.

These priorities included a renewed focus on student achievement, teacher recruitment and retention and improving communication with all constituents of the school system.

Since the passage of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law in 2001 and the Bridge to Excellence in Education Act in 2002, the face of public school reform has radically changed. Local school systems can no longer rest on the laurels of averages.

High standards and expectations are now the standard for all children, regardless of race, poverty or limited English proficiency. Washington County Public Schools have made remarkable progress due to the tireless effort and commitment of teachers, administrators, educational support personnel and parents. There have been many student achievement highlights including:


- Ranking first in Maryland in attendance for middle and high schools.

-Ranking third in Maryland for attendance for elementary schools.

- Posting lowest dropout rate ever, going from 5.5 percent in 2000 to 2.19 percent in 2003.

- Ranking fourth in Maryland in the Geometry High School Assessment.

- Posting highest SAT scores ever for WCPS: Verbal 512 , Math 534.

- Ranking fifth in Maryland for students with disabilities receiving services in the least restrictive environment

- Posting highest Maryland Functional Test scores ever for grade 8. (Test measures basics.)

The Board of Education's five-year master plan has a sharp focus on student achievement and plans for action are clearly defined.

Instructional initiatives that have been implemented to enhance student achievement include:

- Adoption of countywide elementary math text book series.

- Adoption of countywide research-based elementary reading series.

- Expanded Advanced Placement offerings.

- Expanded Merit courses in middle schools.

- Development of two magnet schools.

- Expanded offerings in world languages in elementary and middle schools.

- Expanded visual and performing arts at Washington County Technical High School and South Hagerstown High School.

- Expanded interventions for students below grade level.

- Maintenance of low class size.

- Reorganization of Antietam Academy and Eastern Elementary School.

Increasing student achievement can only be accomplished by recruiting, retaining and developing the best possible teachers. Over the last three years the board has continuously looked for ways to improve in those areas.

In the beginning of this process, the board engaged teachers, administrators and members of the community in a task force to make recommendations.

Some enhancements include, but are not limited to, the following:

- Involvement of teachers on a variety of committees, task forces and groups to study issues and make recommendations to the board.

- Development of Teacher Career Ladder and Differentiated Pay Model.

- Raised starting salary for teachers to fifth highest in Maryland.

- Developed comprehensive evaluation tool in cooperation with the Washington County Teachers Association.

- Implemented recommendations of the Positive Changes for Elementary Teachers study group.

- Expanded mentor program for teachers.

- Reorganized and developed professional development services - Center for Peak Performance and Productivity.

- Began two-week New Teacher Academy.

Concerted efforts have been made to enhance communication with external and internal stakeholders.

Some of these initiatives include:

- Creation of office of Ombudsman to resolve constituent concerns.

- Held regular meetings with County Commissioners and Mayor and City Council of Hagerstown.

Many challenges face the nation's public school systems. Huge mandates, many unfunded, most under-funded, continue to chip away at local control and drive local school costs higher. Now more than ever, it is critical that local school boards employ sound policy development that is closely aligned with system goals and always with student achievement at the forefront.

Financial resources must be leveraged to provide comprehensive educational opportunities for the children of the county. Although much work lies ahead in meeting the requirements of the NCLB legislation, WCPS is well positioned to meet these goals and provide world-class educational opportunities for all students in Washington County.

After considerable thought and reflection, I have decided to seek re-election. I have been honored to have the citizens of Washington County trust me to serve as a member of the board. I have strived to maintain public trust. Each vote I cast was made only after thorough and thoughtful consideration of its impact on students.

During the last three years, I have held a variety of leadership posts, including: Board president during the 2002-2003 school year, chairman of the Policy Review and Development subcommittee for two years, chairman of the Board's facilities subcommittee, liaison to the Hagerstown-Washington Chamber of Commerce, and member of the legislative committee for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

I have also participated in numerous professional development programs including graduating from the MABE Leadership Program. I am excited about the future of the Washington County Public schools and I look forward to continued public service to the citizens and students of Washington County.

W. Edward Forrest is a member of the Washington County Board of Education.

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