State Education Board Chief to Quit

Walter Sondheim Jr., a longtime proponent of state school reform, said yesterday that he will step down from the presidency of the Maryland State Board of Education today.

Sondheim, at 91 the oldest chief of a state education panel in the country, said simply that "it's time."

"Sometime, you ought to do it when you don't have to," he said.

Sondheim, a Baltimore native, was instrumental in the revitalization of the downtown and Inner Harbor two decades ago. He was named president of the city school board in 1954 and headed the 1989 state commission that outlined Maryland's sweeping school reform effort.

He was elected president of the state board in July 1998. Sondheim said he will still serve out the rest of his term as a board member, which ends in 2003.

Vice President Ed Andrews, a professor at the University of Maryland and a former Montgomery County school superintendent, is expected to run for board president at today's meeting.

Pr. George's Wants Adult Mentors

Prince George's School Superintendent Iris T. Metts said yesterday that she is seeking 10,000 adults to help students learn basic reading, writing and math skills.

Metts hopes to find the mentors within five years by spreading the word through churches and community groups.

Ten elementary schools--Princeton, Apple Grove, Seabrook, Cooper Lane, William Paca, Doswell Brooks, Francis T. Evans, James R. Randall, Mount Rainier and Thomas Stone--will take part in a national mentoring program called Help One Student To Succeed (HOSTS) in which training will be provided for mentors, along with specific curriculum and educational materials.

Other schools will be encouraged to develop their own mentoring programs, with help from a 38-member citizens mentoring committee. Although social issues will be part of the programs, the focus is on helping students improve their academic abilities and raising scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, Metts said.

Glendening Suggests Teacher Incentives

Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) proposed two new inducements yesterday to help recruit teachers as part of his legislative agenda.

The governor said he wants to nearly double the size of college scholarships offered to aspiring teachers and provide low-interest home loans to people who agree to teach in Maryland for five years. Both plans will now go to the General Assembly for consideration.

State officials have been under pressure to find strategies for coping with a worsening shortage of teachers.

Glendening last week offered $24 million for teacher signing bonuses and mentoring programs in his proposed budget, but he also warned that local school systems will have to raise teacher salaries if they want to stay competitive with the private sector.


Science Award Finalists Named

Three high school seniors from Montgomery County and one from the District of Columbia are among 40 finalists announced yesterday in the Intel Science Talent Search, a prestigious pre-college award that has been called the "Junior Nobel Prize."

Joshua Michael Levy, 18, of Quince Orchard High School, studied cell death in a project that could be important for cancer research. Elizabeth Michal Epstein, 17, who attends Montgomery Blair High School, developed a way to better predict asteroid orbits, particularly those on a collision course with Earth. Jonathan Simon, 17, another Montgomery Blair student, worked to improve diffractive lenses used, for example, in digital cameras.

Patrick Kelly, 17, of Sidwell Friends High School in the District, studied the colors and magnitudes of galaxies.

The top 10 winners are to be announced at a black-tie dinner in Washington on March 13. The highest award includes a $100,000 four-year scholarship.


Most Probationers Flunk New Drug Test

Two-thirds of 30 probationers in the Charlottesville area tested positive for drugs in a recent trial of a new drug-testing method using human hair, corrections officials say. Officials said they were alarmed at the high rate.

"The horror would be if this is not an anomaly," said Neal S. Goodloe, senior probation officer in Charlottesville. "I imagine a scenario where we test 600 people . . . and let's say we have that two-thirds hit rate--it's going to be a mess."

Goodloe said the short-term effect would be an overload of the parole system. But in the long term the method will be invaluable, he said.

Since 1998, the Department of Corrections and Radford University have sponsored the research exploring the use of hair testing in eight Virginia locations.

The second phase of testing ends in April, when officers and researchers will present their conclusions. After that, state corrections officials will determine whether they will continue to use hair tests, Goodloe said.


Police Commander Leaves for Nonprofit

Rodney Monroe, commander of the 6th Police District and a former assistant chief, said yesterday that he is leaving the force to join a nonprofit organization.

Monroe, who has been on the force for 21 years, will join the District-based National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, where he will work at the grass-roots level on nonviolence initiatives for young people.

"I met with my officers today to tell them I'm leaving. I lost it twice," he said. "That's what I'll miss most, not the meetings, the other brass and all that. I'm going to miss these men and women who are out there on the street every day."

Of his new job, Monroe said he tried to do proactive work as a police officer but felt that often his work with children was reactive.


"The anti-gun officeholders have made it clear that this is a year for an attack on people's right to keep and bear arms. We're going to be very active, and we're going to be communicating closely with our members."

-- Greg Costa, the National Rifle Association's legislative liaison for Maryland, where gun control has moved to the top of the state's legislative agenda.