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Test scores a milestone for Eastern Elementary

June 17, 2004

An increase in standardized test scores is always welcome, but Washington County's results also told a special success story about Eastern Elementary School.

Eastern, with a large number of students from lower-income families who move in and out of the district each year, has had its share of problems in the recent past.

In February 2002, the School Board rejected a redistricting committee's proposal to send 118 Eastern students elsewhere to ease overcrowding, opting to shift only 76.

In May 2001, parents of Eastern students were given the option of transferring their children elsewhere under a new federal rule because state test scores had gone down there for the past two years.

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In August of last year, the School Board decided on a new strategy. Teachers at Eastern and Antietam Academy - formerly the Alternative School - were asked to reapply for their jobs.

Those who did so successfully, along with some new teachers, got an additional salary bump of $5,000. Judging by the latest results, Eastern's educators are earning their money.

According to Elizabeth Morgan, the superintendent of schools, the latest state test results show that Eastern has gone from "being one of the lowest performing elementary schools in the county, to one of the better performing."

Morgan noted that in reading, students in Eastern's third grade went from 44.4 percent meeting standards to 79.5 percent. Morgan said the results were achieved by dedicated professionals who taught students well and held them to a higher standard.

Fifth-graders improved as well, the percentage of students scoring in the "advanced" area going from 11 percent in 2003 to 30.8 percent in 2004.

A full breakdown of the scores of all county schools can be found at this Web address: www.mdreportcard.org.

The bottom line: The school system challenged its teachers and administrators to do a better job with children whose family situations and frequent changes of addresses created big disruptions in their lives. This strategy paid off and we salute all of the educators who had a hand in making that happen.




Don't discourage condos



Hagerstown Planning Director Kathleen Maher this week advised the city council about a number of zoning changes her department is recommending to limit the number of rental units in the city.

Another proposed change would require at least 20 feet between buildings containing new rental units or condominiums.

We understand what Maher has in mind - preventing clusters of housing that are so dense that there's little space between properties. But we hope this doesn't discourage the development of condominiums in the city.

Perhaps we ought to say "redevelopment," because some of the city's large older apartment buildings seem ripe for this kind of conversion, for a couple of reasons.

If they're being used as multi-family dwellings now, there wouldn't be any need for additional parking after a conversion. There might even be less parking needed, if the developer opted to convert six small apartments into three large condominiums.

This kind of reinvestment in an existing property would also increase the size of the city's tax base, which is a good and desirable thing.

Finally, the creation of new, owner-occupied housing is just what the city needs because there's too much rental housing now, according to a formula cited in a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond done in the early 1990s.

The study noted that the ideal housing mix is 60 percent owner-occupied, 40 percent rental. Hagerstown's mix is just the opposite.

People rent for a variety of reasons, some because they can't afford to buy and some because they don't want to own. But studies have shown those who own will fight for their neighborhoods - as opposed to leaving when the lease is up - because they have an investment to protect.

With the prices of detached homes soaring, it would help if there were other options to help first-time home buyers build equity. Condos could be one possibility, with a bit of encouragement from the city government.

And who knows, there may be buyers out there who don't want to spend every weekend tending to a yard they don't have time to use.

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