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Diversity drives request for grants

March 05, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Citing an increase in its racial and ethnic diversity, the Washington County Board of Education is asking for a federal grant of about $1 million to implement two new magnet programs and revise three existing ones, a school board official said Thursday.

The racial and ethnic diversity of students enrolled in Washington County Public Schools has changed, from about 95.7 percent white in the mid-1980s to about 87.2 percent white this school year, Roger Giles, director of funded and special programs, said during an oral presentation to the board.

The school board adopted a resolution approving a voluntary plan which calls for establishing new magnet programs at Eastern Elementary School and E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

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In order to be eligible to receive a grant, the school system must adopt a voluntary plan detailing how it will address issues arising from high concentrations of poverty and increasing racial isolation in selected schools, Giles said.

The plan presented by Giles on Thursday are contingent on the school system receiving the requested grant funds from the Magnet Schools Assistance Program, Giles said. The school system expects to know by May 1 if it received the grant funds, Giles said.

The grant program is competitive with many schools are trying to get the average annual grant amount of $2 million, Giles said.

The system is asking for about $1 million, he said.

The voluntary plan also suggests revising the magnet programs at Fountaindale School for Arts and Academic Excellence, Emma K. Doub School for Integrated Arts and Technology and Funkstown School for Early Childhood Education so that it would affect more students at the three schools, Giles said.

Giles said the International Baccalaureate program, which was created to provide a world-wide standard for education, would be implemented at Eastern and E. Russell Hicks if the grant is obtained. Students in the inquiry-based interdisciplinary International Baccalaureate programs are held to a higher educational standard than those in other schools, Giles said.

The magnet program at Eastern would start with kindergarten in the 2004-2005 school year and be expanded over the following two years to include students through third grade, Giles said.

The E. Russell Hicks program would begin with sixth-grade students in the 2005-2006 school year and would be expanded to include grades seven and eight over the following two years, Giles said.

While the percentage of minority students in the school system is about 13 percent, at Fountaindale the minority population is at about 43.1 percent, he said.

About 34 percent of students in the system, and 44.5 percent of elementary school students, are eligible for Free and Reduced Meals.

The school system is hoping the magnet programs will improve school achievement levels, a written report by Giles said.

While the school system as a whole performed well compared to Maryland's other school systems on the various Maryland state assessments, the students in the schools with current and proposed magnet programs have not done as well, the report said.

For example, in 2003 more than half of third-grade students at Eastern Elementary scored below proficiency on the Maryland School Assessment in reading, the report said. About 68.2 percent of black students and 69.4 percent of high-poverty students scored below proficiency in reading, Giles said.

The results are similar at the other schools selected for new or revised magnet programs, Giles said.

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