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Berry hopes to return to School Board

January 05, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Former Washington County Board of Education member Thomas G. Berry said he has the three Ds - desire, direction and dedication - needed to be an effective member of a board he said hasn't done enough to push students to their academic limits.

"If I'm elected, the first thing I need to do is to convince three other school board members that our school system should be in the top 10 percent of anything you can measure," said Berry, who was a school board member from 1992 to 1996. He ran unsuccessfully for a second term in 1996.

Berry, 71, of Rohrersville, is one of 16 people who filed to run for four seats up for grabs on the School Board. A primary election will be held March 2, and eight candidates will advance to the general election, to be held Nov. 2.

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Several years ago, Berry said, the school system was on track to be in that top echelon, but over the past few years, it has strayed.

"There are only three things in the classroom that mean anything: The curriculum, the teachers and the students. The building and all that other stuff are things that you need, but they're not essential," he said.

Berry, a retired engineer, said improving reading comprehension should be the top priority in the classroom. The new Houghton-Mifflin reading series the school board bought to be used in all county elementary schools is flawed because it is tailored to "the lowest common denominator," he said.

And with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which aims to raise the bar for all students by closing the achievement gap between schools, Berry said students are being kept from excelling to their potential.

"We tend to worry about the kids that can't, won't or don't want to learn, and we don't spend enough effort on the bright ones," he said.

Students' SAT scores are ranked in line with the state's SAT scores, but most county students' scores on the college entrance exam fall somewhere in the middle of the scale, he said. There aren't enough students scoring high marks on the test, he said.

"Our curriculum doesn't allow us to excel," he said.

Berry said funding isn't what's holding the school system back, either.

"The county commissioners have their own problems. Some people think money solves all the education problems, but I don't think that's the case," he said.

Money is not being spent wisely on the renovation and building of schools, Berry said.

"We could build schools for half the cost per square foot of what we're spending now," he said.

To spend up to $100,000 for a portable classroom is "criminal," Berry said. The school system could be run on less money, too, he said, adding that the organization at the central office needs to be reviewed.

Berry said he chose to run this year because he was "embarrassed" that only three people ran last year for three school board seats.

"I said, 'that's not going to happen again if I can help it,'" he said.

Berry is a member of Mt. Zion Lutheran Church. He is a math tutor, and likes to jog and travel.

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