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Steele spends time in classroom

March 16, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - He didn't cook, style hair or troubleshoot a computer, but Lt. Gov. Michael Steele interviewed and observed students who do Tuesday at Washington County Technical High School.

Steele was in Hagerstown as part of an education fact-finding tour. Counting Tuesday's visit to the Technical High School, he has hit 20 of the state's 24 school systems, according to his itinerary.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich in September created the Governor's Commission on Quality Education to study accountability, school-community links, best practices and early childhood programs.

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During a break in the day, Steele said his philosophy as the commission's chairman is, "Shut up, get into a classroom and see what's going on. Talk to students."

Steele and his staff and security toured classrooms and listened to teachers explain curricula.

Dressed in blue jeans and a button-down shirt, he ate lunch with students and heard their ideas and gossip.

At the end of the day, Steele spoke with about 18 teachers, administrators and business people. At his request, the media has been kept out of that session in each school system.

Asked later about the exclusion, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan would only say: "It was the lieutenant governor's agenda."

As his entourage wandered from class to class, Steele saw the students in the midst of lessons.

He watched girls in the health occupation program sit on hospital beds and practice soaking each other's feet.

Many students go into nursing, but other medical fields are available, teacher Marjorie Kellman said.

Steele stood in a cosmetology classroom as girls sat around him at salon stations. Teacher Tammy Wilson said they must complete 1,500 hours of study.

In a focus group meeting, Steele grilled about 25 students on what they like and don't like about their school and whether they feel prepared for college.

He asked for frankness. "I only have one ground rule," he joked. "Nothing you say can get you sent to the principal's office."

Students suggested having sports teams or more school spirit. But, for the most part, they said they like their trade programs.

Steele invited the group to the commission's public hearing at Hagerstown Community College on May 19 at 7 p.m.

Afterward, a handful of focus group students said they appreciated Steele's visit.

"I think him going around (to schools) gets the word out," said criminal justice student Brandon Younker, a senior.

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