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School’s in session: new year kicked off Monday in Worcester

(Aug. 30, 2013) Monday marked the start of the 2013-2014 school year for Worcester County Public School students.

A projected 6,671 students will walk the hallways of the county’s 14 schools this year, 21 more students than last year, said the schools’ Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs Barbara Witherow.

The school system hired 52 teachers to fill vacancies left by retirements or attrition, creating an eight percent turnover in the teaching staff of 675. Five schools have new principals: Buckingham Elementary School, Ocean City Elementary School, Snow Hill Elementary School, Cedar Chapel Special School and Snow Hill Middle School.

The 180-day school year is slated to end Thursday, June 12, with three days of cancelation allotted for snow and other bad weather. School will end early if the county school system does not use those three days, Witherow said.

While students spend 180 days in class, the state requires teachers to work 188 days. Professional days are days off for students, but are “full-days for teachers, packed with in-service and required activities, such as grade reporting,” Witherow said. The county’s public school scheduled four of those days last week before school started; one during the school year; and one at the end of each of three marking periods.

County schools have seen several major changes since last school year, from ramped up safety measures following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last December to the implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

Following a series of meetings with the county sheriff’s office, the Board of Education, the Worcester County Commissioners and school safety committee, each of Worcester County’s public schools now has an armed security deputy on campus throughout the school day.

“Their role is to be responsible for patrolling the inside of the school as well as the school campus,” Witherow said. “They would be a first responder should there be a security threat.”

In addition, schools’ front doors have been outfitted with electronic entry systems: buzzers, cameras and speakers that let school staff control who enters the locked doors. Once inside, visitors undergo a background check before staff give them a badge and allow them into the school.

Schools with portable classrooms now have card-swiping entry systems on the doors leading from the main building to the portable classroom area. Additional security cameras are in place and students are taking part in more safety drills, Witherow said.

In all, the measures cost an estimated $173,425 (not including the security officers, who were hired through the sheriff’s office), half of which was paid for by a State of Maryland Capital Security Improvement Initiative grant, she said.

County schools will fully implement the Common Core State Standards, a national set of benchmarks for K-12 students, this year in conjunction with curricula developed on the county level to meet those goals.

“The Common Core standards are rigorous, internationally benchmarked expectations that prepare students for college and career(s) and to compete globally,” Witherow said. “With the Common Core, students will be participating in more student-directed learning, working on real-world problems (and) challenges in a dynamic, digitally-enhanced environment.”

Partly to adapt to the new standards, Worcester County schools received $200,000 this year to buy 240 new computers for students. With a technology budget increase of $30,000, the school system also increased its broadband capacity.

“The goal is to move toward digitally enhanced classrooms and to meet the testing requirements for online assessments,” Witherow said of the changes.

A renovation project for Snow Hill High School could start as early as January if it wins final approval from the county commissioners. At their August 20 Board of Education meeting, the board approved the bid package, which reduced the estimated project cost by $1.4 million. Superintendent of Schools Jerry Wilson and the Board of Education will seek approval from county commissioners for the bid on Sept. 3.

Worcester County Public Schools also implemented an energy efficiency program six months ago. Schools that reduce energy costs will recover some of the savings to be used for instruction materials and classroom supplies, Witherow said. So far, schools have contributed to savings of around $100,000, she said.

Finally, the Board of Education adopted the “Worcester 2016” strategic direction plan in January, identifying school goals like ensuring academic success for students, connecting classrooms to future working environments through several pathways, promoting high-quality teaching and learning, improving resource management; and forming partnerships to enhance student successes.

Leaders in the schools will be sharing the vision and goals with stakeholders throughout the school year, Witherow said.

Worcester County Public School holidays for the 2013-2014 school year are:

• Aug. 30: Schools closed

• Sept. 2: Labor Day

• Oct. 18: Maryland State Education Association Convention

• Nov. 4-5: Professional days

• Nov. 27-29: Thanksgiving break

• Dec. 23- Jan. 3: Winter break

• Jan. 20: Martin Luther King Day

• Jan. 23: High school exams, half-day for high school students

• Jan. 24: Half-day

• Jan. 27: Professional day

• Feb. 17: President’s day

• March 28: Professional day

• April 17-21: Spring break

• May 26: Memorial Day

• June 11-12: Half-days

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