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New terminology has Joe Average on orange alert

July 13, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

I see that Springfield Middle School was put on notice by the state because of inadequate test scores. They should not worry though, since my young Alexa will be moving on from Springfield Middle to Williamsport High School this fall, and that should free up some room under the middle school's Slacker Cap.

(Please quash your impulse to jump to Alexa's defense; she has ways of making me pay dearly for every joke I make at her expense, most of which involve Matchbox 20.)

Springfield Middle was categorized by the Maryland State Board of Education as a "School on Alert" because it did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress goals this year. The Washington County School Board, however, believes this was the result of a clerical mistake and is appealing the ruling.

Right out of the chute, let me say that I am familiar with the administration, faculty and staff at Springfield Middle and if they are "inadequate" at anything, then I'm a giraffe.

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I wish they were inadequate, but sadly, they are not. They are always big on this "parental involvement" and "open lines of communication" and "well-rounded, quality education" that I didn't have any use for when I was in eighth grade and I certainly don't have any use for today.

I even walked into the principal's office one day and punched my fist on the desk and said, "You want to know how much interface I want to have with your public education system? I want to hear the school bus door slamming shut in the morning and that's it. I don't get involved when I see a street crime and I'm not about to get involved here."

Or maybe I dreamed it. Whatever the case, Springfield is an excellent school, in my opinion; I'm just bothered that I have been compelled to find this out firsthand.

But what had me flummoxed are all these new terms the state board is throwing at us. A "School on Alert?" What's that? Is it like Delta being placed on double-secret probation in "Animal House?"

Is it like that new police buzz phrase, a "Person of Interest?" Do red lights and sirens go off in the hall for a School on Alert as the teachers staff their battle stations? I wish they would be more clear. I'm just kind of a regular guy, and if I hear the term "School on Alert," I don't know whether the kids are failing or if it's about to be attacked by a Soviet sub.

They have more categories too, my favorite being "School in Need of Improvement." I love that one more than I can say. I don't know what it means, but I'm guessing that it is the Realtor's equivalent of a "handyman's special."

Being genuinely interested, at least for a minute or two, in what these terms meant, I Googled "School on Alert," but all I got was the public schools' terrorism plans, in which one takes the colors green, blue, yellow, orange or red and cross-references them with Tab A, Tab B or Tab C to learn his course of action, which is pretty much the same across all colors and tabs. You know, if you see someone pouring nuclear waste into the drinking water, feel free to notify the authorities - that kind of thing.

You get the distinct impression the government has absolutely no clue what to do about terrorism, but on the up-side, it has some of the best chart drawers in the business.

So eventually I made it onto the state school board's Web site, but I got sidetracked by the "sample test questions" link. I was gratified to have a job where I can be paid for trying fitfully to noodle through test questions that can be answered by your standard third-grader, but I was still no closer to discovering what a "School to be Named Later" was.

Unfortunately, my adult-ADD kicked in (Alexa doesn't have ADD, but as much as she's on the phone it's possible she has AT&T - oh hush, it's not like the paper will charge you extra for that joke) and I lost interest in the project before I had my answers.

I did learn that schools that are flagged must improve, or the consequences grow more dire with each passing year. By Year Four they can replace the staff and extend the school year. I honestly do not want to know what I would have done as a boy if I could have gotten my teachers fired simply by flunking a test, but I sense I might have considered the extended school year a small price to pay. Finally, by Year Five, the state can step in and take over, as if that would help.

I'm assuming by Year Six the school would simply be imploded like the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, but the Web site didn't specifically say this, so I could be wrong.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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