Seventeen-year-old Josh Michael of Ellicott City said he plans to make closing the achievement gap between white and minority students a priority during his term as the newly appointed student member of the Maryland Board of Education.
Michael, a junior at Centennial High School and president of its student government, was named by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to the 13-member board last month. His one-year term will begin July 1. The student member of the board votes on all issues except budget, personnel and appeals.
Josh Michael, a Centennial High junior, is the new student member of the Maryland Board of Education.
Michael made closing the achievement gap one of the cornerstones of his campaign, along with ensuring school safety and promoting student activism. He also cited the shortage of certified teachers in Baltimore city and the failure of schools to prepare students for standardized tests.
"We need accountability," he said. "There's no excuse for different regions to not be performing at an acceptable level."
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that states rate schools according to their performance on standardized tests, such as the Maryland School Assessments in reading and math taken by students in grades 3 through 8. If schools do not meet state targets on those exams, they could be deemed failing. The law mandates that all students pass the MSA tests by 2014.
But looming even closer is the 2009 deadline for high school students in Maryland to pass state tests in English, algebra, government and biology to receive a diploma.
Michael said that students need more help, such as workshops, in learning how to take standardized tests as well as the SAT. He also supports more staff diversity training and providing more technical support to low-income school districts.
"Maryland education has really given a lot to me," Michael said. "I'd love to give back."
He means that quite literally. Michael said he plans to attend college in Maryland and hopes to teach high school math and science one day. His father, Warren Michael, is a computer science teacher at Centennial and coaches lacrosse there.
Michael was chosen for the student board member position from a field of five semifinalists, who spoke at the Maryland Association of Student Councils legislative session last month. After a question-and-answer session, the 600 student delegates voted to recommend two names to the governor's office. Michael received a phone call telling him that he had been appointed Feb. 18.
Tax Breaks on the Way?
Howard taxpayers may be getting a break on their taxes in the upcoming fiscal year because the local economy has been strengthening, said County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone (D-Southeast County).
He offered few specifics beyond suggesting that seniors and working-class residents should receive special tax relief, along with a broad-based tax cut. County Executive James N. Robey (D) will soon present his proposed budget to the County Council.
"We need to do it in a gradual, responsible and thoughtful way, taking into consideration our continuing expenses," Guzzone said after attending a delegation hearing last week in Annapolis, where Del. Gail H. Bates (R-Howard) proposed a tax break for seniors.
Bates's bill would have granted discounts on property taxes of 30 to 50 percent for longtime Howard residents 65 and older. The 11-member legislative delegation voted along party lines to defeat the proposal 6-4, with Del. Neil F. Quinter (D-Howard) abstaining.
Four of Howard's six Democrats voted against the House of Delegates bill to permit 9,500 slot machines in four broadly defined locations. They were Dels. Elizabeth Bobo, Frank S. Turner, Shane E. Pendergrass and Neil F. Quinter. Steven J. DeBoy Sr. and James E. Malone Jr. voted for the measure. Among the Republican delegates, Warren E. Miller voted in favor of the bill, while Gail H. Bates voted against it.
The House narrowly approved the bill, 71 to 66, mustering the minimum number needed for passage. But Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the House won't compromise with the Senate, which has passed a considerably broader bill to allow 15,500 slot machines at seven locations, including four horse tracks.
For Nurses, Signs Are Good
A computer-programmed male mannequin, outfitted in a shapeless blue hospital gown, appeared to be struggling to breathe as it lay in a bed at Howard Community College. Instructor Jessica DiPalma demonstrated how she changed the mannequin's "vital signs" via keyboard to simulate emergency situations for her nursing students.
"Is he going to be all right?" U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) asked to laughter from students and college officials.
Cummings showed up on campus, even as snow cancelled Monday classes, to tout the federal funding he pursued for a sizable increase in the college's nursing program next January. The $296,700 earmarked in the federal appropriations bill will help HCC's registered nursing program add 80 students to the 120 now enrolled.
Cummings said the program's expansion was at the top of his list of federal funding for local projects because community colleges remain affordable for those who seek a higher education.
He told a handful of white-coated students that because of Maryland's deepening nursing shortage, "you all are in demand. One thing you don't have to worry [about], when you come out of here -- you got a job."