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Worcester County one step closer to Showell feasibility study

(Oct. 18, 2013) The Worcester County Board of Education is one step closer to completing its Showell Elementary School feasibility study after its Oct. 15 meeting.

Now, only five firms are in the running to lead the project that will determine whether renovating and rebuilding or constructing an entirely new building will better suit the needs of the school.

“Our current facility definitely has some deficiencies,” Worcester County schools’ Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Programs Barbara Witherow said. “The goal is to have a school that can meet the needs of our students.”

The building is “taxed beyond its capacity,” Witherow said, explaining that the shear number of students outsizes the school’s facilities — so much that the entire second grade learns out of portable classrooms.

Other problems include the use of non-traditional classroom spaces, such as storage rooms, for teaching, she said.

A panel will interview the firms on Nov. 12, basing its top choice on several factors, including cost, past experience with similar projects and whether the firms employ local contractors, Witherow said. It will give its recommendation to the Board of Education at its next meeting on Nov. 19.

The winning firm will begin assessing Showell Elementary in January and complete the project in the late spring, Witherow said.

Also at the meeting, the board heard a presentation on last year’s student test scores, which included the Maryland School Assessment (MSA).

“That news was really good,” Witherow said.

In the grades tested, third through eighth, in the MSA, “we increased or maintained our achievement from last year, which is not true of the entire state,” said Stephanie Zanich, Local Accountability Coordinator for Worcester County Public Schools.

The state’s testing slump came partly because Maryland is transitioning to teaching based on the goals of the Common Core State Standards, a set of federally set benchmarks aimed to prepare students for college and the workplace.

“In the switch to looking at Common Core, we’re teaching one curriculum and testing another,” Zanich said. “Our students did exceptionally well having a new curriculum, yet understanding enough about the curriculum to do well on MSA. In fact, we were first in the state in both reading and math, grades three through eight combined.”

And at the county’s high schools, graduation rates are among the highest in the state, she said.

However, there are still gaps the schools are working to close. Test scores among students living in poverty, special education students and black students are still significantly lower than the scores overall, she said.

“These have been the gaps all along,” Zanich said. “We’ve decreased them, but we haven’t eliminated them.”

The board hopes to address these achievements gaps as part of its Master Plan, which it approved Tuesday.

Members voted to advance the five-year plan to the county commissioners, who then advance it to the Maryland State Department of Education, Witherow said.

The plan is updated at this time each year and includes action plans for many specific items at the schools.

“It basically centers around student achievement and fiscal responsibility,” Zanich said. “The first goal, as always for us, is to increase the success of our students.”

View last year’s Master Plan at www.worcesterk12.com/district/master_plan.htm.

The next Board of Education meeting is slated for Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 12:30 p.m. in Newark.

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