New Washington County schools chief pledges to help struggling schools

Wilcox: 'The rumors of our demise as a district are greatly exaggerated'

July 12, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Clayton Wilcox, right, the new Superintendent of Washington County Public Schools is pictured during his first board meeting Tuesday afternoon.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

If parents know the school system is making an honest attempt to improve educational results at Bester and Winter Street Elementary schools, then they might choose to keep their children at those schools, new Washington County Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said after a school board meeting Tuesday.

"... The rumors of our demise as a district are greatly exaggerated. We have a number of schools where a number of young people need additional support and help, and as a system, we're committed to providing that to them," Wilcox said during the afternoon meeting of the Washington County Board of Education.

School system officials presented a summary of last year's Maryland School Assessment test results for grades 3 through 8. They also talked about the 17 schools that missed at least one state reading or math proficiency standard, some schools by only one or two students.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act calls for schools and various subgroup populations at the schools to meet 100 percent proficiency by the 2013-14 school year. That means every student who takes the tests would have to score at or above the proficiency level and have been in the school for a certain period.

Of the 17 schools that missed the mark in at least one subgroup last school year, five are considered to be "schools in improvement."

"(The school system is) obligated to provide some of those families a choice, a choice to another school perhaps where the grass is greener in some eyes. My sense is, each of the schools that we have in this district are making formidable strides, and the data demonstrates that," Wilcox said.

Western Heights Middle School is in its third year of "school improvement," but because Bester and Winter Street — which both missed proficiency standards in 2010 and 2011 — are Title 1 schools, the school system must give families a choice to send their children to other schools for at least the next two school years.

 In Washington County, only elementary schools with higher populations of students from low-income families are deemed Title 1 schools.

Information packets about school choice are expected to be mailed to parents of Winter Street and Bester students this week, Assistant Superintendent Donna Hanlin said. They will be given the option of sending their child to Potomac Heights or Rockland Woods Elementary schools, with the school system providing transportation, Hanlin said.

Both Potomac Heights and Rockland Woods met "adequately yearly progress" standards last school year and have enough space to accept more students, Hanlin said.

If Bester or Winter Street parents want to send their child to a different school, they will have to go through the special permission process, she said.

Informational meetings about school choice will be held at Bester on July 26 and at Winter Street on July 27, school system spokesman Richard Wright said. Both meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

The deadline for parents of currently enrolled students to decide about school choice is Aug. 4, Wright said. For parents of new students enrolling in the school system, the deadline is Dec. 22.

Closing the gap

The school system has had to offer parents a choice previously.

Students at Eastern and Hancock elementary schools had the school choice option in the early 2000s. At least four Eastern students exercised that option, according to The Herald-Mail's archives.

Hanlin wasn't aware of any Hancock students exercising that option.

 "We are taking positive, affirmative steps to improve the educational outcomes for all kids," Wilcox said.

"I think many educators knew in 2003 that we were going to be here in 2011. Because as we tried to close this gap, we knew we would reach a point where it would become very difficult to close it any further," school board member Donna Brightman said.

Brightman said she was still concerned about the students who hadn't scored at the proficient level on their reading and math assessment tests.

School board member Justin Hartings said that since he's been on the board, he's not aware of any school anywhere that has had 100 percent of students be proficient in every subject, not that that shouldn't be a goal.

"With this accountability measure, two, three years from now, every school in the state is not going to make it unless the law is changed. And for anybody to suggest that means the schools in our state, in our county, or any school here is not succeeding in teaching children is to misread the data," Hartings said.

School board President Wayne Ridenour, a retired teacher, said: "This notion that by setting the standard at 100 percent we're going to get it, was a fallacy. And the educators laughed at it. They really did."

Until the federal government reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, named No Child Left Behind under the Bush administration, the school system is going to keep seeing schools miss the mark, Ridenour said.

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