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John O'Rourke
Q & A With John O'Rourke

Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2000, noon EDT

John O'Rourke became the 13th superintendent of Howard County Public Schools on July 1. In this role, he is responsible for a $334 million budget, 66 schools, 5,700 employees and 44,000 students.

In 1997, O'Rourke was named New York State and National Superintendent of the Year.

For more information about education in the county, visit the Howard County Schools page.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


washingtonpost.com: Welcome, Superintendent O'Rourke. Thank you for joining us today.


Washington, DC: What direction is the county taking to recruit and retain qualified African American principals?

John O'Rourke: We have a comprehensive recruitment and retention program for all of our professional staff. We target qualified African American teachers and principals. We do that by actively recruiting both in state and out of state with special emphasis on Black colleges. Within the district we have a very active program of identifying teachers with administrative potential and providing support and encouragement for their professional development so that they might be better positioned to become administrators. The county also has a comprehensive program aimed at retaining our appointees which includes extensive staff development and mentoring. 26.9% of all school-based administrators are African Americans.


Olney, MD: Does Howard County have a "resident teacher program"? I am quite interested in becoming a teacher in the school system at the high school level. I am currently finishing my PhD at NIH in genetics but I am not certified to be a teacher (and I can't afford to spend another year or two in school full-time to pursue a teaching certificate). I know that Montgomery County has a program affiliated with NIH to encourage scientists with MAs and PhDs in the sciences to teach at the middle or high school level. This program allows scientists to teach in the county by signing a two-year contract and during the course of that time they become certified through courses and seminars offered after hours at one of the county schools. Any chance of Howard County doing the same?

John O'Rourke: Requirements for the necessary partnership with Towson Univ. call for 15 teachers to be part of the resident teacher program cohort. We developed a pilot program that was to be instituted this year but were only able to recruit 7 potential candidates. We will intensify our recruitment efforts with the idea of pursuing just that kind of program in the future. The district would welcome any nominations of potential candidates and would be happy to provide information and consultation about future opportunities. At the present time we do have scientists and other content area professionals who do teach in the county as they work toward becoming certified through courses and seminars. However, this is not part of a resident teacher program, it is simply an on-going program in the district.


glenelg, md: In light of the three recent Howard County teen driver fatalities, what role do you see the Howard County Public Schools System playing in efforts to reduce the high rate of teen driver automobile crashes?

John O'Rourke: The Howard County Public School System has a very serious responsibility to play a part in efforts to reduce the rate of teen driver automobile crashes. We do that in any number of ways through our education and co-education programs. We cannot do it alone, however. This issue as much as any other issue facing this county demands a collaboration of county gov., the police dept., other agencies, and particularly families, and that very much includes the teen drivers themselves. We do recognize that the school district has a very special responsibility but everyone else needs to recognize that we cannot deal with it alone.


Columbia, Mo: Does the board plan on continuing to give out exemptions to out of district students at River Hill and Long Reach High Schools, which allow them to stay there while not participating in the tech-magnet programs?

John O'Rourke: District policy calls for students to return to their home schools if they no longer participate in magnet programs. Requests for exemptions or appeals are handled on an individual basis in accordance with district policy.


Columbia, Maryland: I live in Columbia and do not understand why there isn't some form of all day kindergarten. Have you considered full day kindergarten or an alternative? An alternative that I have seen in practice entails 2 groups of children, group A and group B. They go to school on alternating full days- during week 1, group A goes M/W/F and group B goes T/Th. During week 2, they reverse. This plan does not require more teachers or more space, and the children get more hours of schooling. Currently, kindergarten is canceled on days when there is a weather delay or shortened day. In the alternative system, the kindergarten schedule would be the same as the other students resulting in more contact time and hopefully more learning. It would also save the county money because they would only run school buses 2 instead of 3 times a day.
Thank you for your time, JS

John O'Rourke: Currently the district has full-day kdg. for some students in targeted schools. This program is available through special state funding. We are currently studying alternatives and options within the current program. We simply do not have adequate space to double our kindergarten program. Going from a half-day program to a full day calls for twice the number of teachers, classrooms, and other related services and materials. We have neither the space nor other resources necessary to provide full day kindergarten at this time.


Milwaukee: What are your top priorities for the Howard schools? What is your agenda?

John O'Rourke: My priorities particularly as a new superintendent center around accessibility and communication. Since assuming office on July 1 I have done everything possible to make both myself and this office accessible to the entire county through an active program of reaching out to all community residents and groups. The personal touch and dialogue is but one of an array of communication means being used. The emphasis is on a two-way process of information sharing utilizing personal contact, print, and telecommunication approaches. The essential leadership function from my point of view involves engaging the community, articulating a vision based upon that engagement, and reflecting with the community on just how well we are doing. This is not a linear process but the emphasis at this time is definitely engaging the community.


Ellicott City Maryland:
County Zoning has stated that it will not
approve plans for the Alternative Learning
Center unless it includes a road going
through the site to the neighborhood of
Gaither Hunt. The community very much
fears that this road will open up
development of the 1500 acres behind
it, which will come out of historical
easement in a few years.

How do you see the Dept of Education's
obligation to Zoning vs obligation to
preserve the integrity of the surrounding
community?

John O'Rourke: School district plans do not include a road going through the site to the neighborhood of Gaither Hunt. Those plans are currently in the hands of the county zoning board. The real obligation of both the Dept. of Education and county government is to work together cooperatively in the best interest of county residents and district students.


Columbia, MD: There seems to be a teacher shortage--how do you plan to deal with the shortage? Are there in programs or plans for alternate routes to teaching?

John O'Rourke: We are effectively dealing with the national teacher shortage problem here in Howard County by implementing a three year plan developed by a task force which included teachers, administrators, community college and university representatives with union and association involvement. Methods included incentives, increased recruiting in and out of state, targeted recruiting in critical need areas, minority recruitment, cooperative university/district programs, and teacher development programs. There are any number of alternate routes to teaching certification, for more information call 410-313-6813.


Laurel, Maryland 20723: Congratulation on you appointment.

I would like to know what is the best way to prepare a junior entering this Fall 2000 academic year to prepare for college, academically and financially.

John O'Rourke: It's never too late to begin preparing for college but it's also never too early. For a junior entering this fall semester the best contact would be the child's high school guidance dept. For more information call 410-313-6748. All students should be aware of our Career Development Centers located in every high school. The centers contain up to date software programs, career pathways information, and college and university programs. These resources together with the ability to work closely with the guidance counselor should provide all the necessary information any of our students would need to pursue any kind of post-secondary education. Beginning in a child's junior year there are a large number of evening programs specifically geared towards the needs and interests of parents of prospective college students.


Ellicott City MD: Research shows that teenagers do not function well in the early morning and learn better when they start school later. Montgomery county has already reversed it school times to let High School students start at the latest time. It would benefit the HS students in Howard county if we were to change to a later school opening time for high school. Kids would also have fewer unsupervised hours after school.

John O'Rourke: Currently our transportation program has several shifts. Secondary students ride on one run and elementary on another run. If we were to reverse elementary and secondary, the middle of winter would see large numbers of elementary students walking to school or the bus stops in the dark. Safety becomes and overriding concern. At the secondary level after school activities, both athletic and co-curricular, would be significantly impacted by a later school start. The fundamental issues particularly as they relate to maximum student learning are constantly being examined.


Columbia, MD: What role do you see technology playing in the daily education of students in Howard County?

John O'Rourke: Technology plays a necessary and increasing role in the daily education of students in Howard County. Increasing technology is simply a fact of life. it is used in virtually every aspect of our education program as it is used in virtually every area of society. While it is important and critical, it is a means to an end. We use technology in conjunction with everything we do in the content areas. It is fully integrated across the curriculum.


Ellicott City, MD: What is the plan of the County Board of Education in relieving the overcrowding of Ilchester Elementary School? It is at 170% capacity.

John O'Rourke: Currently the Howard County school system is studying the feasibility of a number of sites for a new elementary school in the northeast portion of the county. Extensive environmental engineering studies have and continue to be reviewed by nationally recognized consultants. Alternative sites are also being investigated. Current plans call for a new elementary school to be opened in Sept. 2003. Temporary measures being used include portable classrooms, redistricting, and creative use of existing space.


Fulton, MD: How do you feel about a
"feeder school" system, which HCPSS does not currently have? Do you foresee moving in that direction?

John O'Rourke: I would love to have a "feeder" system which would be stable over the years. Enrollment pressures and the need to redistrict make the feeder school system a luxury we cannot afford. With so many of our schools over or at capacity we have no choice but to redistrict based upon annual enrollment updates and available space in each of our schools.

Thank you for submitting your questions.


washingtonpost.com: Thanks, Superintendent O'Rourke, for taking the time to join us today.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

 

 
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