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Restructuring begins at two county schools

April 13, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

New principals will help hire staff at two underperforming Washington County Public Schools where employees were told last month they had to reapply for their jobs.

The move is part of a restructuring plan to improve Winter Street Elementary School and Western Heights Middle School.

The Board of Education last week appointed Matthew Semler, an assistant principal at Bester Elementary School, to Winter Street, and Kara Reed, the principal of Pangborn Boulevard Elementary School, to Western Heights.

According to Semler, who moved to Bester as part of a restructuring last year, the schools will advertise and refill their teaching, instructional assistant, custodial and secretarial positions.

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"Basically, it is a situation where the superintendent (Elizabeth Morgan) decides that these two schools in this case were not performing up to par," Washington County Teachers Association President Claude Sasse said last week.

The plan will follow the model of Bester and Eastern elementary schools, which previously underwent restructuring, said JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, the school system's executive director of early childhood and elementary education.

"Bester and Eastern are the models, and I believe they will very much follow and collaborate with the principals and student achievement specialists at those schools for staff development," she said Tuesday.

One of Washington County's most impoverished elementary schools, Winter Street last year saw drops in its results on the third-grade math and reading tests, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Nearly one out of every two third-graders failed to show proficiency on the state reading tests and about 40 percent of fourth-graders registered only basic-level performance on the math tests.

At Western Heights, just about 60 percent of sixth-graders passed the state math tests last year and about 60 percent of eighth-graders passed the state reading tests, according to the state Department of Education.

"They seem to be on a downward drift," Sasse said.

Both Winter Street and Western Heights met federal test targets for performance of students in specific subgroups last year. But Palkovitz-Brown and Boyd Michael, the executive director of secondary education, said the restructuring plan calls for accelerating improvement at the schools. According to No Child Left Behind, schools must be 100 percent proficient by 2014.

"I think if we don't get to 100 percent, we're going to get close, and with the restructuring at Western Heights, we're definitely going to get closer," Michael said Tuesday. Twenty-seven teaching positions at Winter Street and 51 teaching positions at Western Heights will be refilled, Ellen Hayes, supervisor of human resources and teacher staffing, said Wednesday.

While the teaching positions at the schools are open, Hayes said no teachers will lose their jobs. The school system will pay every teacher who works at the two schools next year an additonal $5,000 to compensate for longer work days, Hayes said.

"We're going to look at all the internal candidates first, and then we're going to go out from there," Hayes said. Teachers who are not rehired or choose not to return to their positions at Winter Street or Western Heights will be placed elsewhere, she said.

While Sasse acknowledged that teachers at the schools might not be happy with the restructuring, he called plans to increase staff-development opportunities positive.

"I think, definitely, it paid off at Eastern," he said.

Debbie Warner, in her last year of a two-year term as PTA president at Western Heights, expressed mixed emotions about the restructuring.

Her son, a seventh-grader, has one more year at the school, she said.

"Parents - everybody's a little afraid of change because of the uncertainty, but I truly think it will make us better than we already are," Warner said Tuesday.

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