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Washington County school board candidates discuss issues at forum

October 10, 2008|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

BOONSBORO -- Looking a bit like Tom Brokaw at Tuesday night's presidential debate, Ethan Allnutt, an eighth-grader at Boonsboro Middle School, largely was ignored at Thursday's forum for local school board candidates as he offered reminders about time limits.

Ethan held up yellow and red signs for the candidates, signaling when they were close to or had exhausted their response time during the forum hosted by the middle school's PTSA.

All eight candidates running for four open seats on the Washington County Board of Education attended Thursday's forum. They answered a wide range of questions, with much of the audience questions focused on perceived inequities in southern Washington County.

The following is a sample of some of the responses:

Donna Brightman, 56

Southern Washington County

Brightman, who is the School Board's vice president, advocated for smaller community schools, which she said produce positive results for younger children. She also said that more innovative ideas and critical thought should be present in decision-making, and suggested a systemwide shake-up.

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"We need to somehow change the Hagerstown-centric mind-set in this county," Brightman said.

She also said that changes are needed in the way teachers are viewed. Brightman said teaching should be treated more as a profession, and increased salaries and benefits would follow.

Jacqueline B. Fischer, 62

Clear Spring

Fischer, a former school board member, said more time needs to be spent between board members and Washington County Commissioners discussing the details of school construction and a plan for the future. She also said more communication was needed between the school board and parents and the local business community.

"Unless we get our needs out there, spend time with these groups ... things aren't going to change," Fischer said.

As part of that change, she said she favors more green construction, and as a board member said she fought for many of the energy-efficient components in the county's newest schools.

W. Edward Forrest, 45

Hagerstown

Forrest, a former school board member, said one way of promoting equity among Washington County schools is to have a base of programs at each school that is the same.

"I am a strong supporter of having a signature program in every high school," he said, adding that items such as transportation need to be added to give students more choices in their educational programs.

While he wants to offer more opportunities for students, Forrest also stressed his support for teachers and said he was proud to be part of the board that established the New Teachers Academy, which offers paid training for teachers new to Washington County Public Schools.

Meredith Fouche, 57

Sharpsburg

Fouche said Thursday that officials should go after more federal grant money that can be used for educational opportunities not offered in Washington County Public Schools. He said that in the past, such money has been used only to support elementary school enrichment, but he would like to see more of a focus on a well-rounded student who has opportunities to take classes in cooking, sewing and other abandoned subjects.

"Success is more than just academics," Fouche said. "It's well-rounded citizens. We need things in the curriculum that have been taken out, and I fault the people who took it out."

Justin Hartings, 37

Keedysville

A supporter of magnet programs, the International Baccalaureate degree, Washington County Technical High School's options and other enrichment programs, Hartings said there should be more such programs in schools and more ways to bring students to those programs. Mandated testing is a reality, but officials should resist simply trying to get each student to cross a certain threshold, said Hartings, a business owner and parent of school-age children in Washington County.

"The test should be a tool to help us use all of those great programs," Hartings said.

Margaret Lowery, 61

Halfway

Before retiring in 2007, Margaret Lowery said she taught disadvantaged students and found that the best approach was to work with them one on one. In response to a question about the mainstreaming of special education students, Lowery, a longtime state employee, said individual attention by paraprofessionals in the classroom caused test scores to rise.

"Their scores went up really really good," she said. "A lot of the parents of those children were pretty upset that their students had to be mainstreamed, but with the paraprofessionals, their scores did improve."

Lowery also stressed the importance of good character in an elected school board member.

Wayne D. Ridenour, 57

Williamsport

Ridenour, a current school board member, said he would like to continue to serve students.

"All my decisions will be based on what I think is best for kids," he said. "I have faith in the system and faith in those who work in it."

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