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Hard work yields results for restructured schools

April 25, 2006

Improve your performance or else.

There are hundreds of pages of regulations governing the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but at its core, the education legislation mandates that student performance must improve, no matter what children's family backgrounds are.

Based on the results achieved at several restructured schools in Washington County, the Board of Education has risen to the challenge.

At Eastern Elementary School, where fewer than 45 percent of third-grade students demonstrated proficiency on a state reading test in 2003, the percentage rose to 76 percent in 2005.

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The same school's fifth- grade results on a state math test went from 48 percent proficiency in 2003 to 61 percent in 2005.

There is still room for improvement - the statewide percentage for fifth-grade math proficiency was 70 percent last year.

But the progress is heartening and it comes as a result of a recommitment by teachers and the School Board's agreement to pay those who accepted the challenge an extra $5,000 a year for three years - since extended to four.

The recommitent came when the school system asked all teachers at Eastern Elementary to decide whether they wanted to reapply for their jobs. Of the 41 teaching positions, 19 were filled by members of the original staff.

Sixteen teachers came from other public schools and six - described as mostly first-year teachers - were hired from outside the system.

A new principal, Kathy Stiles, was also hired. Stiles spent two years at Eastern and was then moved to the next school in need of restructuring - Bester Elementary School.

Last August, she said she and the staff were determined to turn around the Bester's performance after only 60 percent of students there passed their Maryland School Assessments.

"If you're saying 60 percent are making it, that's a sin because 40 percent did not," Stiles said.

Stiles and her staff could have offered the excuse that Bester draws its students from the county's most economically disadvantaged families - more than half of students there are eligible for free and reduced-price lunches.

But no one is offering any excuses. Instead, they're promising to dedicate themselves to improving students' performance. For willingly taking on a difficult situation and striving to improve it, we salute all who were involved in the effort.

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