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BOE veteran returns with some new ideas

April 20, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Jacqueline Fischer has been off the Washington County School Board since 2006, but nobody would accuse her of being out of touch with local education.

She worked on the committee that made the recent redistricting recommendations - more about that later - and still attends many of the board's officials meetings, or watches them on TV.

I asked her why, after spending more than 30 years in the classroom and serving a term in the lowest-paid elected county office, why she wants to return to the seat she lost in 2006.

"I think it's kind of like teaching. Sometimes the rewards are few and far between, like having a student come back to thank me for what I did," she said.

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"I guess education is in my blood. I want to make Washington County schools better for this generation and for generations to come," she said.

Asked about the first-term accomplishments of which she's most proud of having worked on, Fischer said, "I guess for moving the school system from 17th in the state to fourth."

Doing that, she said, involved improving students' scores on state assessments, increasing the number of students who graduate and reducing absences. An increase in the number of Advanced Placement courses helped, she said, as well as getting a higher percentage of students to pass them.

So many courses have been added, including magnet programs and the International Baccalaureate at North Hagerstown High School, that students have many choices to engage them, she said.

She admits that at first she was not a strong supporter of the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. She said that changed after a tour of the Baltimore School for the Arts, on which the Ingram school is modeled.

Even though students there are admitted on the basis of auditions, their Scholastic Aptitude Test scores are some of the state's highest, as are the number of scholarships students they earn, she said.

Once students have an opportunity to do what they're passionate about, academic progress, even in unrelated areas, seems to follow, she said.

Fischer said that if elected, she would push for more different course offerings - even welding, if there were a renewed interest in it. But she said she would also push for more evaluation of courses and of student interest in them, so that the system could clear the way for new subjects.

Since leaving office, Fischer said she has become more analytical and independent.

"I guess I've got a new perspective, you might say," she said.

She has not hesitated to take her former colleagues to task, writing a letter to the editor chastising them for not being familiar with Robert's Rules of Order - a parliamentary procedure system designed to help meetings run more smoothly.

"It does save time and allow for equal presentations of both sides of an issue," she said.

The board also needs to become more visible, Fischer said. It should meet at least four times a month in formal session and debating many of the subjects it faces in those sessions, as opposed to committee meetings, she said.

The board needs to have a representative at the meetings of the county commissioners and the Hagerstown City Council, she said.

"Sometimes when topics related to the schools come up, there is nobody there from the school system to offer a comment or even listen," she said.

As a member of the redistricting committee who saw the board reject some of the recommendations that would have filled the new Rockland Woods Elementary School and relieved overcrowding elsewhere, Fischer is blunt when she talks about what wasn't approved.

She said she'd like the board to answer these questions: Why leave Boonsboro out of the plan when some schools there are over capacity? Will the state provide money for a new school or addition in Boonsboro, or will state officials say "sorry."

And finally, Fischer wonders what will happen if a developer comes in and finds Rockland has plenty of room.

"Will that developer be able to proceed without any contributions to the school system?" she said.

And as for the matter of building schools, Fischer said she has become committed to the idea of "green" construction. It might be more costly to put in (for example) special insulated glass at the outset, she said, but it would pay for itself in the long term.

So would recycling rainwater off the roofs and parking lots to flush commodes and/or water athletic field, she said.

Fischer has many ideas, but pledges that if elected again, she would be a full-time board member, doing her own research "and not just relying on what's handed to me by staff."

She also said she believes her experience in the classroom gives her the perspective "of knowing what it's like to be in the trenches."

Not every board member needs that experience, she said, because "everyone brings something different to the table."

To me, Fischer sounds as if her time off the board, away from the avalanche of paperwork, allowed her to think about some of the system's challenges in new ways. But having a new idea is like a salesperson who has a new product. Even if it's pure genius, you've got to sell everybody else on its worth.

It will be interesting to see if Fischer can first convince the voters and then her fellow board members, that she has some fresh proposals worth considering.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers

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