Arundel School Basks in President's Praises

Laneie Taylor, left, a fifth-grade teacher at North Glen Elementary, calls on a student to answer a question from first lady Laura Bush and President Bush.
Laneie Taylor, left, a fifth-grade teacher at North Glen Elementary, calls on a student to answer a question from first lady Laura Bush and President Bush. (By J. Henson -- Associated Press)
By Daniel de Vise and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A few insiders had known since winter break that the White House might send someone out to visit North Glen Elementary School, a racially mixed, working-class campus south of Baltimore that had managed to close the achievement gap between black and white students on statewide tests.

When word trickled out Friday that the visitors would be the president and first lady, Emily Waller, 10, went home and called everyone she knew. Her father went to the store and bought her a camera. Then, the whole family went to the Olive Garden to celebrate.

President Bush swept into Glen Burnie yesterday morning with a fleet of helicopters, the first presidential visitor to an Anne Arundel County school in nine years. Flanked by first lady Laura Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, the president toured the linoleum hallways of the freshly decorated school. He visited Meghan Henderson's third-grade class and Laneie Taylor's fifth-graders, encounters the students later recalled as a blur of smiles, handshakes and hugs.

President Bush then took the stage in the diminutive school auditorium and, before an audience of about 250 students, parents, teachers and politicians, he lauded a campus that he said had come to symbolize success under the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

North Glen, Bush said, "is a school that believes every child can learn, not just certain children."

Central to No Child Left Behind, which was signed into law in January 2002, is a goal that all students, including low-income and minority children, attain proficiency in reading and math by 2014. North Glen Elementary is one of the first schools in Maryland to close the achievement gap on the Maryland School Assessment, a statewide exam introduced in 2003 to measure local progress toward national goals.

The president invoked North Glen's success on the fourth anniversary of the law, at a time when support for his signature education initiative has eroded.

Despite large increases in federal aid to schools, many congressional Democrats say that overall, the law is underfunded. Some conservatives say the law undermines local authority and gives the federal government too much control over schools. Those concerns have stalled a Bush administration proposal to expand the law's testing requirement to the nation's high schools.

Educational researchers say it is too soon to say whether the law has prompted lasting improvement in student achievement. "Bush is claiming greater success for the act than he can justify," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research organization that has closely studied the law's impact. "It is still unclear that the law will be successful in solving the problems in public education."

Speaking in Glen Burnie yesterday, Bush said success stories such as North Glen's offer proof that "there's an achievement gap in America that's closing. We don't need achievement gaps in America."

At North Glen, the percentage of black third-graders rated as proficient on the statewide test rose from 32 percent in 2003 to 94 percent in 2005, placing the campus among the top schools in Maryland for black student performance. Black students perform at least as well as whites on several academic measures at the school, whose student population is 42 percent black, 40 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic and 7 percent other ethnic groups.

Maurine Larkin, principal of North Glen until last summer, largely orchestrated the school's success, hiring much of the current staff, retooling classroom methods and gently prodding students to improve their test scores with the help of a stuffed Chihuahua mascot called "Ms. A," who occasionally spoke to students as the principal's alter ego in the morning announcements.

"I got a presidential hug from both him and Mrs. Bush," Larkin said as the helicopters departed. She reflected on the visit: "Sometimes, presidents and politicians just pick a school because they need a school. But to be picked because our school met what [the president] was looking for in No Child Left Behind makes this visit just an extraordinary experience."

Pamela Rogers, who has volunteered at the school for more than 30 years, rated it as North Glen's finest hour.

"I was in the third row. It was almost, 'Reach out and touch me,' " she said.

Emily, the fifth-grader, posed for a picture with the president and Mrs. Bush and the rest of her class.

It was good, she said, "to meet the most important person in the United States of America."

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