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Focus for year on areas of improvement

August 20, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

After focusing primarily on academics for several years, Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said student achievement is up, and this year, administrators will work to improve in other areas as well.

Morgan said she expects the 2006-07 school year to be different, in part "because there are different people in head positions," she said.

A reorganization of top administrative positions changed several job titles and responsibilities, and some positions that were left open after the switch were recently filled.

The role of deputy superintendent for systemwide improvement, efficiency and accountability was vacated when Patricia E. Abernethy took a job in the Baltimore school system. Morgan has said she is not sure how she will fill the position, since it was tailored to Abernethy's strengths and expertise.

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Boyd Michael III is the new assistant superintendent for school operations and Donna Hanlin moved from the director of elementary education position to assistant superintendent for secondary instruction.

Morgan said these changes and others will positively affect the school year.

Facilities



Because academic achievement is solid, Morgan said, administrators will work to improve facilities.

"The first few years we really pushed academics hard," she said. "Now, we're in a good place."

New school buildings, construction and improvements will be top priorities.

The county's public schools received about $6.8 million in maintenance and upgrades over the summer, Michael has said. The money was spread among 140 summer projects, including new boilers and air-conditioning units, parking lot repairs, carpet replacement and new offices.

"We have a lot of fix-up to do," Morgan said.

She said the county's schools have been adequate for the number of students enrolled in the past, but recent growth has sent an influx of students into the public school system. New, larger buildings are needed to accommodate students.

There were 20,564 students enrolled in Washington County's public schools during the last school year. This year, more than 21,200 students are expected to be enrolled.

Work and planning will continue on three elementary schools expected to open in 2008, Morgan said.

New Maugansville and Pangborn schools will replace existing facilities, and Westfields will be a new school in the Westfields development on Sharpsburg Pike. It is estimated the three will cost a combined $65 million.

Maugansville Elementary School will have a capacity of 735 students, and an estimated cost of $21.5 million. Pangborn will have a capacity of 745 students and will cost about $22.3 million. Westfields is expected to cost $21.3 million and hold up to 745 students.

"Imagine building a whole new school," Morgan said. "It's a huge undertaking. We're working hard to maintain excellent academic standing but putting more emphasis on our facilities. We're really getting our arms around that."

Finances



Morgan said there will be a greater focus this year on bringing more money into the school system through grants and outside funding. A change in the way the school system approaches funding is necessary because for several years, Washington County Public Schools has received state money through a bill known as the Thornton Act.

This is the last year for that funding, and Morgan said the school system will have to make up for the lost funds.

The Thornton Act was passed, Morgan said, based on the idea that poorer school systems were not getting as much funding as more affluent school systems. The legislation evened out funding among the counties by restructuring the state's school financing system.

"(The school systems) had to meet the same standards, but there was an unequal playing field because of funding," Morgan said. "We had a nice infusion of money based on (the legislation)."

Morgan said administrators are planning ahead and anticipating the loss of that funding. "To continue on our path to becoming a world-class school system, we're going to need the revenue," she said.

Morgan said the school system will aggressively pursue grant money it previously would not have. One example is the $5,000 grant recently awarded to Bester Elementary School from the Laura Bush Foundation for American Libraries. The money will be used to buy materials for the school's library, and is an example of a grant for which a Washington County School had not previously applied, Morgan said.

"We want to be on the cutting edge of fundraising," she said. "We want the most we can get into the system. We've never had time to really invest in that."

Morgan said she plans to work to bring scholarships into the schools for students.

"If we can bring in more money for each and every kid, we want to do that," she said.

Teachers



Morgan said that with increased funding, the school system would like to be able to pay its teachers more.

"If we can't pay them, then we can't get the best and keep the best," she said.

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