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Letters To the Editor

Thursday, March 17, 2005; Page GZ04

Reopen Blair Auditorium

There is a $1 million bond bill before the Maryland House and Senate (the hearings are Saturday) to fund the renovation and reopening of the Old Blair Auditorium. This 1,200-seat jewel was once among the most-used facilities in Montgomery County, serving a broad range of educational, cultural and community needs.

When Blair High School moved to its new location at Four Corners, the building was converted to an elementary and middle school; the auditorium was not included in the renovation and has remained boarded up for more than seven years -- a waste of a vital resource and a squandering of taxpayer dollars.

Located within five blocks of Silver Spring's central business district, the auditorium would support Silver Spring's continued revitalization and its designation as an arts and entertainment district, while also serving the needs of the 1,600 students and teachers housed in the school building.

The special juxtaposition of an elementary and middle school with a major performing arts facility (complete with rising orchestra pit, wings, fly space and fully equipped dressing rooms) commands attention. It could serve as a national model for educational and cultural enrichment through the arts and a cost-effective outreach to at-risk youths, while also serving the needs of many area artists, arts organizations and major touring musical theater productions currently without access to performance spaces in Montgomery County.

The cost of renovating the auditorium is estimated at less than $2 million. To build such a facility from the ground up would cost $50 million or more. For a relatively small outlay of funds, Montgomery County and the state will gain a much-needed facility that will serve the needs of a broad-based constituency and will help fuel the ongoing economic development of the area. The time has come to turn the lights back on and let the curtain rise again on a wealth of opportunity.

Busy Graham

President, Old Blair Auditorium Project Inc.

Founder and director of development and special projects, Class Acts Arts Inc.

SAT Gap Still Wide

Your March 11 editorial ("Closing the Racial Gap") was right -- freezing the current Montgomery County public schools magnet programs does not solve the fact that too few African American students are enrolled in these programs. And yes, too few African American youngsters are flying high in gifted and talented magnet programs elsewhere in the country, but so what? Why hasn't Montgomery County, for example, grown the magnet pie -- adding more program seats and recruiting African American youngsters like there was no tomorrow to fill those seats? Shouldn't we rightly expect more from a county with more resources than most?

Of course, I'm biased when addressing this issue -- growing the high-end academic pie. I'm the former president of the Jaime Escalante Public Charter School Inc., the group whose recent charter school proposals to open a small, International Baccalaureate-only school in east Silver Spring were rejected twice by the county Board of Education. Our mission was to offer the IB program (clearly used as a magnet program in the county) to more black and Latino secondary students. Few in the county, and practically no one in the county schools, beat a path to our doors to support this mission, which makes one wonder if the county is really serious about bringing more high-end academic programs to African American youngsters.

Also, in your editorial, it appears as though you used the county's 43 African Americans scoring above 1300 on the SAT in 2004 to suggest that at the high school level the county schools are making progress closing the gap. The county deserves to be proud of these high-scoring students. However, a quick review of the countywide averages for all black and white seniors from the past eight graduating classes tells a very different story (see all the numbers below, which were taken directly from reports posted on the district's Web site).

In 1997, the SAT mean for black county graduates was 924, compared with 1139 for white county graduates, a gap of 215 points. In 2004, the SAT mean for black county graduates was 917, compared with 1163 for white county graduates, a gap of 246 SAT points. It takes a serious optimist to see hope for closing the gap in these sets of numbers, especially since they aren't headed in the right direction.

Joseph A. Hawkins


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