Excuses for Poor Scores

As the parent of a child in the Charles County public school system, I am outraged at the spin placed on the drop in our average SAT scores by the school board.

The excuse for the 46-point decline at Thomas Stone High School is, "Thomas Stone High School was undergoing major renovations for two years leading up to the testing period, and disruptions to the normal campus activity were a constant." Well, I remember the board and its administration assuring concerned parents of Stone students that disruptions would be minimal. Now, suddenly, disruptions were constant. But isn't it interesting that during 1997 and 1998 (the two years leading up to the current testing period) SAT average scores in the county were 993 and 996, respectively. The constant construction activity during those years didn't seem to negatively impact Stone students then, and their SAT scores contributed to the county's overall increase.

The next excuse was either a misprint or simply a load of bovine feces, the school board expects us ignorant parents to believe. The satement made was, "This is also the group of students who entered high school during the financial crisis of the late 1990s." Huh? According to my calendar, it is the late 1990s, and we continue to experience record economic growth. What financial crisis are they talking about?

Finally, the last excuse is simply laughable: "the internal strife experienced under [the] former school superintendent . . . " Are they suggesting that our teachers are so neurotic and emotionally fragile that a superintendent who turns out to be a real disappointment can actually hamper their ability to teach in a classroom? Oh, please. I know many, many teachers in our school system and they handled the "internal strife" just fine and went about their business as usual.

Now Superintendent [James] Richmond wants us to get thrilled over yet another set of "new programs" being put into place to help our students better prepare for the SAT. If parents will reflect back about 10 to 12 years to when their child entered the Charles County public school system they will remember the new reading program known as whole language. They will remember how difficult it was to assist their child with reading and spelling homework because parents didn't learn to read or spell by memorizing long lists of words. They will remember questioning the teacher about the lack of any decoding or phonetic instruction in this "new reading program." They will remember being assured by the teacher this "research based" program was the next best thing to sliced bread. They will remember being assured their child would catch on very soon and be reading like a champ. Well, it's a known fact that kids who don't learn to read can't read to learn and these are the same kids whose SAT scores fell into the toilet in 1999.

How many more "new programs" and other experiments are we going to permit the board administration to inflict upon our kids? You can't blame this on the elected board members. They do not approve curriculum, textbooks or programs of study and they do not want to. The majority believe that would be micromanaging and the majority also believe they are not qualified to approve curriculum. The majority being Chairman [Wayne] Cooper, [Sharon] Caniglia, [Kathy] Levanduski and [Donald] Wade. Their starting positions are on the tapes of the August and September board meetings, with Mrs. Caniglia strongly emphasizing her declaration of incompetence in the area of curriculum approval.

Maybe the board should practice what it preaches and take the course in Personal Responsibility. Or maybe those who feel unqualified to perform their jobs should do the honorable thing and step down.

PAULA L. MARTINO

La Plata

Growing Pains

I have been following the accounts in the paper of the search for an answer to traffic congestion on U.S. 301. The questions of whether to build a bypass, upgrade the existing road or what side of 301 to encroach upon are all being watched closely by those whose homes and farms are projected to be in the way. I watch with interest and a certain wisdom I wish to share with you and the people of Charles County. I want to tell you what happened in a small town that got too big for its britches.

My family moved here two years ago from Orlando, Fla. Fifteen years ago Orlando was a small town looking for bigger and better things. We were surrounded by two-lane roads, horse farms and fields of vegetables, orange groves and the like. Very rapidly the two-lane roads became too small for the traffic using them. My son's elementary school, built for 450, swelled to 1,200 students. Orlando needed 33 new schools in 1997 just to handle the existing students. Our county commission decided we needed a beltway around Orlando to ease traffic. The beltway was built, development sprang up around every on/off ramp and our community services and access roads remained unchanged. Two-lane roads were choked with cars waiting to get to the too few six-lane roads. Farms fell, trees fell, wetlands were drained and filled on a daily basis. When we left Orlando every major route was under construction to widen them. Officials admitted after three years of maneuvering through detours, that it wouldn't be enough when the work was finished. They finally admitted what the people had been trying to tell them for years. Growth of the population had won the race with growth of services and infrastructure.

If you build a bypass for U.S. 301, it is certain that growth around it will follow. You not only wipe out a family farm; you lose the countryside you claim to be trying to preserve. If you want to preserve the small town feeling that I have come to love so dearly, your only option is to upgrade the existing U.S. 301. I encourage you to consider an elevated center section of 301 to be used as a throughway only. Access to existing businesses on 301 would be from a widened existing road. This would keep the traffic on the same highway and away from the countryside. I am encouraged by current policy to monitor school capacity before building permits are issued. This will prevent the monstrous schools we saw in Orlando. If you wait until 2020, or even 2003, to see what happens, Charles County will look very much like Orlando. I hope our elected officials will see the "cloud" at the end of the tunnel and work now to give Charles County what it wants and needs.

JOAN DUNN

La Plata

PTA Involvement Works

The beginning of the 1999-2000 school year is upon us already. As our students get used to new classrooms, new teachers, new schools, new surroundings, I urge the parents and school communities to continue to be involved in their PTA organizations. The work of the PTA organization is never complete. We have made great strides over the past 103 years to ensure our children and youth are safe, secure, healthy and provided for.

This past session of the General Assembly in Annapolis found Maryland PTA initiating, participating and advocating for key public policy and legislative issues. All with the focus of children and youth:

* Public Schools-Integrated Pest Management--passed. This allows for the universal notification of parents, guardians and employees of pesticide applications in our schools. . . . PTA initiated the bill, and found sponsors including Dels. [Anthony J.] O'Donnell and [Donald W. Owings III].

* School Buses Loading and Unloading--passed. This prohibits school bus stops off the roadway (with no red lights flashing) when children must cross a highway to gain access to a vehicle or their residence. . . .

* Speeding Violations in School Zones--passed. This bill allows for the doubling of fines for speeding in school zones. The passage of this bill allowed for the removal of language that stated [fines would be doubled] only when amber flashing lights were posted. . . .

* Public comment during Maryland State Board of Education meetings. Previously, parents, concerned citizens, teachers, staff, students were not allowed to comment or voice opinions at the state board meetings. This, to the PTA, was absurd. The PTA lobbied and pressured heavily for passage of this bill to allow public comment time. The sponsor of the bill withdrew it on the day it was to be heard and voted upon. However, public comment time has been placed back on the agenda of the State Board of Education meetings.

We are not done. There is so much more to be accomplished. . . . The high school tests tied to graduation will serve as one of several criteria for earning a high school diploma. Are you aware this is in discussion? . . . Quality health care professionals in our schools; mental health programs and services for children; qualified medical personnel at athletic events and practices (did you know that not all schools in Maryland require this basic need?); quality and quantity of available substitutes; safety standards for school buses; air and water quality in public school buildings and grounds; rating systems or other appropriate information to inform parents about the content of video games and other interactive media. These are the issues we will devote time to this general session. . . .

This is your challenge: to be involved in your child's education, no matter if s/he is in kindergarten or 12th grade; ensure that your child attends school safe, healthy, clean and well-rested; talk with and listen to your child about school and activities; talk with the teachers and school administrator . . . make a point of joining your school's PTA/PTSA and attending the meetings and parenting programs offered. . . .

If we all help in achieving all this, the 21st century will not think of us as fund-raisers, but policy-makers, not cookie bakers but action takers, not reactive but proactive.

SHARON WEIGH

Maryland PTA

Owings

Opposing Land Swap

We are writing to express our strong opposition to the proposed land swap in Chesapeake Beach. We are in favor of many of the improvements to the town recreational facilities proposed by Mayor [Gerald] Donovan. For example, we would like to see the ballpark improved as well as the completion of the community center. However, we do not believe the land swap is the mechanism to accomplish these changes.

We moved to Chesapeake Beach seven years ago and bought a small 70-year-old cottage on 13th Street. A main reason for doing this was to have a respite from the hectic pace, sprawl and commercialism of the city. We were also attracted to the historic and environmentally aesthetic qualities of Chesapeake Beach. We are very saddened when we see these qualities being slowly diminished by rapid and poorly planned commercial development. We realize that some development is inevitable, but there is no reason it cannot be done with some mindfulness to aesthetics and with sensitivity to environmental impact.

Among the unique and beautiful aspects of our town are the many areas of unspoiled wetlands. In the early morning you can spot numerous species of beautiful wildlife inhabiting these areas. It seems as though our mayor is intent on slowly destroying every one of them with some type of commercial project which either directly or indirectly benefits him financially. If the proposed land needs to be reorganized to accommodate changes to the ballpark, we ask [the county commissioners] to withhold support from any plan involving the filling in of wetlands areas and, rather, consider creating a wetland preserve.

In summary, although we support improved recreational facilities for our community's youth, we adamantly oppose this being accomplished through the currently proposed land swap. We find the current water park to be aesthetically offensive by injecting an undesirable carnival quality to our town. Additionally, we vehemently oppose expanding the water park or adding similarly tacky facilities such as an "Uncle Crabby's All Night Miniature Golf Course" or the "Silly Seahorse Domed Skating Rink," etc. We are in favor of saving the current wetlands and creating a natural preserve to serve as a haven for many species who are rapidly losing places to live and feed.

We feel very strongly about this issue and [commissioners'] position on it will definitely impact our support for them as our elected representatives.

BERNICE and BRIAN

CONKLIN-POWERS

Chesapeake Beach

A Driver's Good Deed

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, I had lunch in the Waldorf Festival Shopping Center with my 3-year-old twin grandchildren. When we left the restaurant, the boy twin suddenly broke away, gleefully heading toward Chuck E. Cheese on the other side of a dangerous intersection in the shopping center.

My grandson ran past an oncoming cream van whose driver was moving very cautiously, waiting patiently for me to regain control of the situation. Neither my running nor my desperate calls to stop the boy were successful.

Suddenly, the van driver leaped from his moving vehicle, ran about 30 feet, snatched the boy from disaster at the intersection, and dashed back to his van in time to slam on the brakes before his vehicle crashed into a line of parked cars. I didn't even get his name.

Our family would like to hear from this good Samaritan. Our prayer is that you will call me at 703-491-6982 very soon. I am a grateful grandmother.

LILLIAN GASKILL

Woodbridge, Va.

Religion Through History

I write this in full agreement with Robert Boudreaux's Sept. 19 letter. I would add some historical facts pertinent to the upcoming Senate vote. These facts come from laws previously enacted, and the history of public education in the United States. The dates listed are very important. I encourage all readers to take close heed, verify these facts for themselves, and request their senators to restore the Ten Commandments to our civil institutions.

To start, the First Amendment was ratified in 1791. It states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

What follows will demonstrate the following point: That an establishment of religion is an organizational body that practices a certain religion, not the religion itself.

First, there's the Northwest Ordinance of 1789, which George Washington signed into law, and Thomas Jefferson affirmed when Ohio became a state on April 30, 1802--four months after writing the Danbury Baptists, the letter that contains the first mention of "separation of church and state," describing an institutional separation. Jefferson had nothing to do with the First Amendment--he was ambassador to France in 1791. The Northwest Ordinance requires in Sec. 14 Art. 3: "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." What does this mean? It means all education is inherently religious, or both would not be in the same sentence. It also means morality must be an integral part of education--under the law, this was required to become part of the United States. Today's secularism of public education undermines religion and morality, in turn causing this nation's academic ability to plummet.

Second are the writings of Noah Webster from about 1790 to his death in 1843. Webster's most obvious work is the Dictionary, but what many people do not know is Webster's extensive influence as "Schoolmaster of the Nation." Webster stated, "Education is useless without the Bible," and also considered the Bible "America's basic textbook in all fields"--the whole Bible, not just the Ten Commandments. Webster, in his 1833 preface to the "Common Version of the Holy Bible," stated, "The principles of genuine liberty, and of wise laws and administrations, are to be drawn from the Bible and sustained by its authority. The man, therefore, who weakens or destroys the divine authority of that Book may be accessory to all the public disorders which society is doomed to suffer. . . . " And we sure have seen many public disorders of late. We reap what we sow.

Why is 1833 significant? It means the Bible--and the Ten Commandments--were part of our schools a full 42 years after the First Amendment was ratified! It means the government endorsed the Bible, even when forbidden to endorse churches, synagogues and other such organizations. Who has the audacity to think the Founders didn't understand the true meaning of the Establishment Clause? Let such person be anathema to all the First Amendment stands for!

Lastly, the McGuffey Readers--perhaps the most influential and widely read textbooks of all times--taught many schoolchildren how to read from 1836-1962, during which time American education became the world's envy. McGuffey, another "Schoolmaster of the Nation," wrote in the foreword of his extremely popular reader: "The Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus are not only basic but plenary." He integrated this into the Readers' content.

So why in 1962 did the Supreme Court start ruling otherwise? Simple: They forgot the lessons of history. The "separation of church and state" was never intended to separate God from government, but rather to prevent religious organizations from using government resources for sectarian inquisitions. God is needed for good government. The alternative is to allow the United States to become like socialist Europe, which is where most secularist doctrine began--and the world's bloodiest wars. We all need to remember those lessons, and start correcting the wrongs the secularists want to impose on this One Nation Under God.

DERAN EATON

Waldorf

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