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Morgan answers questions at NAACP meeting

August 12, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Two months after local residents alleged racial disparities in Washington County Public Schools, Superintendent Elizabeth M. Morgan attended an NAACP meeting to be part of the discussion.

"I'm really here to listen more than talk," Morgan said.

Several school system officials and employees also were among about 25 people at Thursday's meeting at Memorial Recreation Center in Hagerstown.

While talking about Maryland School Assessment test results, Morgan said Washington County has made strides in closing the achievement gaps between white and minority students in the last five years.

For example, the gap between white students and Hispanic students has dropped about 90 percent in middle-school reading. Charts also showed varying degrees of progress for African Americans, students getting free or reduced-price meals and special education students.

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The only evidence of a widening disparity was for students speaking English as a second language in the area of middle-school math.

Morgan talked about the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that all students meet proficiency standards by 2014.

Audience members raised a range of concerns.

Ron Lytle wondered if black history was taught more than 28 days a year, referring to February, which is Black History Month.

In response, Clyde Harrell, the district's director of curriculum and instruction, said black history is embedded in lessons throughout the year.

Kelly Wright, who has a mentoring program for boys called MAN Up! (Motivated Achievers Now), said he has offered to speak to students, but never got a return call.

Morgan called the communication breakdown "inexcusable" and said she'll talk with him.

After the meeting, Fountaindale Elementary School Principal Theresa Williamson got to Wright first and spoke about having him visit. "I need you," she told him.

Also from the audience, Ernest Nimmons, a Washington County Technical High School custodian, said there are few minority teachers or department heads in the district.

He said Washington County needs a Jackie Robinson type of pioneer, referring to the first black baseball player in the Major Leagues in 1947.

Morgan agreed.

She said the school system has a goal of increasing the diversity of its employees. She urged Nimmons to encourage his union to do the same, because labor contracts favor seniority.

In June, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler addressed Washington County's NAACP chapter in Hagerstown and listened to several complaints alleging a racial disconnect, largely in the school system.

He suggested that speakers voice their concerns to school officials.

On Thursday, Hampton Wedlock, the chapter's vice president, recalled a comment from that June meeting -- a woman who questioned how a white teacher could teach a black child.

Wedlock challenged that premise. "You teach your culture at home," he said.

Wedlock said he sees "diversity galore" while attending Strayer University classes in Rockville, Md., and wondered why it can't be similar here.

The Washington County school system goes to the campuses of historically black colleges and universities to try to recruit teachers, Morgan said.

Sometimes, they don't want to come here because the pay is better elsewhere, she said. Sometimes, they feel more comfortable living in or near a city.

She said the local black community can help by trying to welcome newcomers.

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