Online chat with Dr. Elizabeth Morgan

September 25, 2005

Name: Arthur

Location: Cascade

Question: My son is 4 years old. I signed him up for preschool at Smithsburg. My question is, why does my income affect my son's education? He was denied because I make too much money. I don't make too much money; I make enough to get by. We work hard every day and can't afford a private school. How fair is this that two hardworking parents can't get their son a jump-start when others can? I really want to hear your take on this. Thank you.

Morgan: The state provides funding for the pre-kindergarten program and specifies certain guidelines that have to do with income and a student's ability to qualify for free and/or reduced-price meals. Other students who do not meet the income requirements are allowed to participate as space allows. If you would please e-mail me directly, I would be pleased to personally follow up for you.


Name: Steve

Location: Hagerstown

Question: How come Washington County schools are not up to speed in special-education programs?

Morgan: I am surprised at your question. We have people who purposely move here to have benefit of our special-education programs. I'm not sure what you mean by "up to speed," but I can share Maryland State Department of Education test data that indicate our special-education students are performing among the highest in the state. Now, if you're referring to lack of programs or facilities for students, that may be another issue. As you may know, we are very overcrowded in our schools right now. We do want to expand programs as the budget allows. For example, we just added our first autism classes, but we know that we need more in order to serve our students well.

Name: Moquit

Location: Hagerstown


1. What is being done about improving the Washington County school system? Resources? Teachers?

2. What are you doing to bring better, more qualified teachers to the system?

3. How are you addressing the limited enrollment space for Head Start/Pre-K and K?

4. How does a community address the school system as to which school district it has been assigned? (Hamptons of Brightwood should be either in Smithsburg or Boonsboro - E. Russell Hicks and South High schools are not acceptable to the residents of Hamptons of Brightwood).

5. What are you doing to request greater funds for the school system from the county surplus of income from higher-income residents and recordation of property taxes?

6. As a resident of Hagerstown, Washington County now, I am only going to accept higher standards and better teachers in the Washington County school system. How long do you see before these changes will be seen in the Washington County school system?

Morgan: Bravo! We need more parents like you to demand the best for their children and expect high standards in the school system. You may know that we are currently experiencing a surge in enrollment that has caused some of our schools to be over capacity. We are operating with portable classrooms and "make-do" classroom space within certain buildings.

All of this growth has caused us to re-examine use of space throughout the county, redistricting to ensure that we are not sending more kids to an already overcrowded school. But until new schools are built and/or modernized so that we can catch up, we will be seeing more overcrowding, not less, in our schools. You may also know that we are working closely with our elected officials to ensure we are generating revenue to not only build new schools, but to fix our old ones.

The Board of Education and I are firmly committed to creating a "world class" public school system. I will admit that we are not there yet, but we have some indicators that we are on the way there.

At the middle-school level, we rank among the top school systems in Maryland. In fact, we're in the top three. We have posted excellent gains on all assessments across the board and are one of only a handful of school systems in the state to have improved at every single grade level, in every content area, having no schools needing what the state calls "improvement."

We have more than quadrupled the number of students taking AP classes and tests; we have posted the highest graduation rate ever recorded in the history of Washington County Public Schools at 91 percent. (It was 78 percent in 2001 when I arrived here) And we now have a number of magnet and specialized programs in place to better serve a range of students.

Name: Debbie

Location: Braeburn West

Question: I just wanted to let you know you are doing a fantastic job. Washington County should be very proud of what you have accomplished!

Morgan: Thanks!

Name: Mark

Location: Smithsburg Elementary.

Question: The younger students at Smithsburg Elementary have had their morning break taken away from them. They (first-graders) are expected to learn for more than three hours without a break or recess ... translating into no snack, either.

Even us adults by law are required to get two-10 minute breaks. Why can't our kids?

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