A decade from now. Montgomery County high schools may have special regional centers for gifted students, principals who spend more time on long-term planning than administrative paperwork, and curricula that are "more diverse and more rigorous," if recommendations of a special Senior High School Study completed recently are accepted by the county school board.
The study took a year and a half to complete and combined the efforts of 140 school officials, parents and students, many of whom volunteered to participate. The Board of Education received the report earlier this month and is now considering the recommendations.
The purpose of the study, according to director Richard E. Wagner, former principal of Blair High School in Silver Spring, was "to examine the current program and to set standards for the school system to follow in the next five to 10 years." Those recommended standards include:
Equalizing educational opportunities throughout the county by having more courses consistently offered at all 22 county high schools.
Expanding curricular offerings to include more current topics of interest like environmental science and computer mathematics and more vocational subjects like carpentry and construction electricity.
Making health a required subject at all county high schools. Most states have required health classes, but Maryland does not.
Reducing the teaching load in English classes. Each teacher must currently handle an average of 135 students a day.
Changing the high school diploma to include some record of the student's specific achievements.
Hiring more supervisory and guidance personnel to relieve the administrative burden now on the school principal and to give students the chance to consult an adviser regularly about personal problems or career choices.
Making staff assignments and scheduling more flexible to facilitate greater diversity in the academic program.
Offering alternative programs that "extend learning beyond the boundaries of the school campus to provide a practical dimension to education and help students develop a sense of responsibility which prepares them to meet changing conditions."
One alternative program advanced in the report is the establishment of at least three regional skill centers in the county. The purpose would be to augment the regular curriculum with special courses for students interested in advanced study, vocational training, or the performing arts.
"This is one of our most important proposals," Wagner said."It would be economically unfeasible to offer these courses at every high school, but they are essential nonetheless."
In a sharp departure from current policy, the report also recommends that transportation be provided for students who wish to participate in off-campus programs, such as the skill centers. In most cases, students now have to provide their own transportation to special programs.
Wagner admits that some of the suggestions could be costly to implement. "Sure, these things will cost money, but we outlined what we think is needed in the way of changes in the next decade," he said. "Those making the final decisions will have to cope with the financial considerations."
The next move is up to the school board. Superintendent Charles M. Bernardo said he will urge the board to commit itself to a comprehensive educational program - including the creation of the regional centers - and to offset the cost by closing some area high schools.
"We can minimize the additional cost by adjusting for our declining enrollment," he said. "It's not a break-even proposition by any means, but we will have achieved our goal of improving the educational quality of our school system."