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School board's top vote-getter outlines his agenda

November 05, 2004|by Wayne Ridenour

Prior to the election, Bob Maginnis, The Herald Mail's editorial page editor, portrayed the campaign of challengers for the Washington County Board of Education seats as "stealth," insinuating that their views on the issues were vague at best, invisible at worst.

After speaking at forums, BOE meetings and answering questions from the newspaper and other organizations, I believe that to be inaccurate.

I am and always will be a passionate supporter of public education. I believe it to be the cornerstone of our democratic system. I am proud to have been a part of that system. I am proud of my family's involvement, and I admire the extraordinary efforts of our teachers and staff.

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act mandates are obviously an issue that the BOE must address, but I disagree with the statement in an Oct. 15 editorial that "arguing that it (the law) is not fair and/or an unwarranted intrusion ... is a waste of time."

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NCLB is a bad law, and I refuse to believe that dissent is a waste of time. I will speak out and lobby at every opportunity in an attempt to see the law either changed or repealed. The intent of the law is noble, but as The Washington Post accurately stated, "The law is a punitive one. It promotes sanctions over support."

In a recent USA Today story on standardized tests, psychometricians (the people responsible for writing standardized tests) said "tests should never be the sole criterion to determine whether teachers can teach, whether schools pass muster, students graduate or colleges accept them."

Our system will deal with the mandates just as we have dealt with earlier mandates and testing programs. We have in place an outstanding teaching force.

As they become more comfortable with the testing criteria, our success will increase, but we must give our teachers flexibility. We cannot allow the curriculum to be so rigid that our best teachers feel stifled or are so afraid of poor evaluations that they replace tried-and- true techniques with scripted lessons supplied by book companies.

If seasoned teachers recognize that "scope and sequence" needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of a particular class, they must feel confident that their efforts will be supported, not met with negative evaluations.

All research points to educational success being determined by engaging teachers. If the mandates of NCLB, Maryland State Assessments and High School Assessments are to be achieved, it will only happen if we retain our best and brightest teachers and staff, no matter the level of experience or cost to the system. People, more than programs, will allow us to continue the success we are accustomed to in Washington County. If we are to meet the federal and state guidelines, we can ill afford to lose our most seasoned teachers and staff.

Another concern in the Oct. 15 editorial was how to get more students into college or high-tech training. I disagree with the premise that Washington County lacks high-tech jobs because we lack skilled workers to perform them.

It is the "chicken and the egg" analogy. Washington County has historically turned out an adequate number of college graduates capable of performing high-tech jobs.

But those jobs are not here, and our graduates must look elsewhere. As the voice in the film "Field of Dreams" stated, "If you build it, they will come." Attract the jobs and our graduates will stay.

Of course, we should strive to send as many of our graduates to college as possible. However, 100 percent will not attend college. We must have quality programs in all areas, including trades, and sell students on the benefits of each route.

A current School Board member recently criticized me, saying that I was selling our students short and hurting their chances on the HSA's if I encourage them to look at the trades. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If a group of students in high school is not showing an interest in college, we can only enhance their academic standing by encouraging their entry into a trade.

Tradesmen, by the nature of their work, need superior math and reading skills for their professions. It stands to reason that a student's efforts in trade programs would enhance their success rate on the HSA's.

Finally, I want to take exception to current board members' belief that BOE candidates should not have personal agendas. Why would anyone run for public office without an agenda? My agenda is:

1) Developing and fostering a positive school/community relationship through openness and communication. Find more ways to involve our communities in their schools. Promote something that seems to be disappearing in our schools - school spirit, be it through music, art, athletics or academics.

2) Promote a climate in our schools where our professionals are encouraged to stay on by eliminating the crushing requirements that reach beyond the classroom and cut into personal and family time.

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