Hospital Chief Lauds Staff

The past week was National Hospital Week across the country. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the 975 employees at Calvert Memorial Hospital who dedicate themselves every day to providing the best possible care for our Calvert County residents.

Medicine and technology are great tools -- but all tools require energy to work. It is the employees of Calvert Memorial that supply the energy, compassion and enthusiasm. The staff is the heart of our organization -- as anyone who has been a patient here can testify. Their commitment to quality improvement, compassionate care and patient safety creates a positive environment where miracles happen every day.

This year we received two national quality awards -- one from the Delmarva Foundation and one from the VHA [a cooperative of health care organizations] -- both are real tributes to the effort of the CMH team. It is my honor and pleasure to congratulate and thank them for their achievements this year. I am very proud to be a part of the CMH family.

James J. Xinix

president and CEO

Calvert Memorial Hospital

A Dedicated Professional

In late April, Mike Amon, a Washington Post reporter, and I traded phone messages. He was trying to contact me about an article he was writing on St. Mary's County's director of social services, Ella May Russell. Amon and I were unable to connect, and his article was in the April 25th edition of the Southern Maryland Extra. I wish to state here what I would have told Amon about Russell and her performance as our social services director.

I have known Russell personally for many years. During my tenure as president of the St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners I had the opportunity to work with her in a professional capacity and understand her role, the work of the department and the importance of the services provided by Russell and her staff to our county. To say the least, I was extremely impressed by Russell and the tremendous work done by her and our Social Services Department.

Russell is well recognized around the state for her dedication to the social services mission as well as her abilities to run a significant department and deliver top-notch services to her consumers. She has also received national recognition over the years. The lady is tireless in her efforts to ensure that those who need her department's services receive them in a customer-focused and efficient manner. Few evenings go by that she doesn't work late and take work home.

Russell is also extremely bright, capable and innovative. When other localities were wringing their hands a few years ago over how to implement the significant new welfare reform regulations, Russell saw these changes as an opportunity to get folks off welfare and into meaningful jobs that she knew would benefit them and their families.

She recognized that, in order to succeed, she had to actually broaden the services she was providing while doing so in a more efficient manner. Russell understood that citizens on welfare had many needs in addition to being unemployed. Their obstacles to being gainfully employed included training, child care, transportation, substance abuse, spousal abuse, language barriers and a myriad of other issues.

She realized that her department had to reorganize in order to meet all the needs as well as operate on shrinking budgets. Organizational stovepipes had to be torn down, and integrated service delivery teams had to be stood up. This would ensure that a consumer on welfare could be evaluated by a group of trained service providers to determine all obstacles for employment, and then an integrated plan could be developed and carried out to put folks to work. Organizational changes are difficult for every industry. But the proof of Russell's leadership is in the numbers: St. Mary's County has enjoyed one of the largest decreases in welfare rolls in the state. And, even better, the vast majority of the citizens who came off welfare have stayed employed.

Tight budgets and a constant quest for additional grants to help those that need it are not new to Russell. Her expertise in this area is exceptional and has provided services to our citizens that other localities are envious of. She has long recognized that our disabled population is the most underemployed in our county. Russell and her staff sought and were awarded a million-plus dollar grant to develop programs and opportunities to ensure our disabled citizens also get meaningful jobs.

Ella May Russell is one of the most dedicated professionals I've had the good fortune to know and work with. St. Mary's County and its citizens are fortunate to have her as our director of social services. Thank you and your staff for many years of service to those who most need help.

Julie B. Randall

Lexington Park

School Funding

The May 6 "School Funding Clash" and May 9 "Smith Counters Levy's Criticisms" Washington Post articles describe some posturing by Charles County commissioners regarding the levels of funding for public schools. While posturing in some cases is political nonsense, it is an excellent sign that Charles County commissioners are committed to maintaining the current spending levels and recognize education is the most important service county government can provide. St. Mary's County should follow this lead.

Charles County has an informal agreement to provide 52.4 percent of the general fund revenue to the school system, which does not include debt service of about $5 million. St. Mary's, on the other hand, has seen the general fund percentage drop from 52 percent to 42.7 percent over a 10-year period. As a result, Charles spends 23 percent more, as a percentage of revenue, on education than does St. Mary's County. To add further insult to injury, the Board of Education, with significant fanfare and with Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele in attendance, signed an agreement with the St. Mary's County commissioners to contribute 54 percent of the income tax and property tax revenue to the school system. While that sounds great, the actual percentage, as compared to the total budget, is still 42 percent, which is no increase to current spending levels.

The parties involved proclaimed that the levels of funding are based on the Thornton Commission per pupil recommendations. These numbers would be the best and least controversial means to address spending, they said. However, Thornton levels of funding are defined only as "adequate." The Thornton definition of "adequate" includes the performance standards in the Maryland School Performance Index (MSPI). For example, high schools standards are: Attendance of at least 95 percent, a dropout rate below 3.75 percent and passing rates on the ninth-grade functional tests (now replaced with HSAs) of at least 99 percent for reading, 89 percent for math and 96 percent for writing -- with a score of 100 indicating that on average, the school is meeting the state's performance standards.

Adequate implies a minimum standard. Where is the funding for the other equally important educational skills in addition to basic reading, writing and arithmetic? Will funding at 42 percent provide adequate resources for athletics, technical centers, military leadership training, music and arts, citizenship, clubs, etc.? These are the educational experiences that define a student's character. I am concerned that the funding levels defined will solidify that St. Mary's County public schools will never be anything more than "adequate."

Tim Twigg

Mechanicsville

Redistricting Meetings

As has frequently been reported in your newspaper, Calvert County is one of the fastest growing counties in Maryland. One reason for the population growth in Calvert is the outstanding public school system, which regularly ranks near the top in standardized test scores for Maryland public schools. The Calvert County public schools system should be congratulated for its outstanding efforts and success on behalf of its students.

Unfortunately, this success has a price. Due to the large number of people moving to Calvert to access these schools, the schools here are increasingly more crowded. This influx of students requires the Board of Education to adjust elementary school boundaries. The board and its staff have indicated that redistricting will be a way of life in Calvert County for the foreseeable future.

Given that redistricting will be with us for some time, it is critical that it be done right. A redistricting committee, redrawing boundaries for seven school districts, recently completed its efforts and reported out to the board. The redistricting committee was provided six objective "redistricting principles" to guide it in its deliberations, requiring that new boundaries support safe and reasonable bus routes, provide for anticipated growth at schools and minimize the impact on students, among others. The committee included staff from the board and seven parent representatives from the impacted schools. The board held two public hearings and will select an option for redistricting in early next month.

The board should be congratulated for establishing a redistricting committee, providing at least some parents with access early in the process to influence the plan ultimately adopted. Unfortunately, the committee was not required to hold any public meetings or hearings, received no input from neighborhoods not represented on the committee, and generated no public documents other than the final report. While other parents could and did appear at the public hearings of the Board of Education, this limited access, after the options have been prepared and the boundaries proposed, is hardly comparable to the access provided to the parents on the redistricting committee. Let me emphasize that there is no suggestion intended that any member of the committee did anything inappropriate or inconsistent with the Board's current practice. Also, it is obvious that a redistricting committee cannot include every parent or representatives from every neighborhood. However, a redistricting committee can and should have open meetings and give parents the opportunity to provide the members with needed input.

I encourage all parents in the impacted districts to provide comments on the redistricting options, which are posted at www.calvertnet.k12.md.us, under the "Current Events" heading. Comments are due June 1.

Pamela Werner

Huntingtown

Muslims Against Killing

I am gnashing my teeth, angry and outraged by the barbaric act of those cold-blooded killers who slaughtered the innocent young American businessman in Iraq. My deepest and sincerest sympathy goes to the Berg family. May God grant them patience.

It is a disgrace to read that those murderers mention the name of God while they were committing such a horrible, forbidden and inhumane act. As a devoted Muslim, I grew up learning to respect people's properties, religions, ownership and most importantly their lives.

I read the holy Koran, the Muslims' holy book. It clearly states, "He who kill a soul will be punished by God, as if he killed the whole people on earth; and he who saves one soul will be granted mercy from God as if he'd saved every person on earth"

The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, "The first group of people who will be questioned on the Day of Judgment are those who killed innocents."

When the story was first released, I knew it from a friend of mine. She phoned me crying as if her own family member was killed. I was trying to calm her down to find out what happened. After she told me the story, she said, "This act is cruel, brutal, and it is against everything Islam calls for." I said, "I could not agree with you more, but would non-Muslim fellow Americans know this?"

Hesham Mahmoud

ADC-New Jersey Chapter- Media Committee

Rutherford, N.J.

March of Dimes Thanks

On behalf of the March of Dimes, I'd like to express deepest appreciation and thanks for Charles County's enthusiastic support of the Charles County March of Dimes WalkAmerica. On April 25 at the Charles County Government Building in La Plata, more than 800 of Charles County's residents participated in the WalkAmerica, raising more than $80,000 to support research to find the answers to premature birth, a health problem that affects one in every eight babies born in America today.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers, sponsors and participants for making WalkAmerica an enormous success. Their unwavering commitment and dedication have proved to be the driving forces behind the annual overwhelming success of this event.

All the credit goes to our talented and committed team of volunteers -- who worked relentlessly for numerous hours prior to April 25. Thanks to Commissioner Wm. Daniel Mayer, WalkAmerica Honorary chairman and major supporter. Thanks to Steve Caudle, WalkAmerica revenue chairman and the entire staff at Century 21 Millennium for the countless hours spent on recruiting sponsorship and teams. Thank you to our national sponsors: Kmart; Cigna Healthcare; Discovery Health Channel and Famous Footware. Thank you to our state and division sponsors: CareFirst; Comcast; and The Gazette. And of course a big thank you to our local sponsors: Charles County government, Century 21 New Millennium, Ferguson Enterprises, Southern Maryland Newspapers, Ken Dixon, Jazzercize, American Community Properties Trust, Washington Gas, Quality Built Homes, Show Place Arena, Gold's Gym, Tri-County Cruisers, College of Southern Maryland, Dash-In and Wal-Mart, the recipient of our "Most Spirited" Spirit Station. In addition, thank you to our numerous sign sponsors and teams. . . . And I certainly don't want to forget all of our walkers who went out in the community and their workplaces and collected pledges. Your extra effort is greatly appreciated. Our current Top Walker (pledges are being collected through May 31) is Lexy Boudreau. The Top Walker will receive an all-expense paid trip for two to Ocean City for two nights, including dining, shopping and entertainment. . . .

Thanks to those many volunteers who show up the day of the event and help. I might not know you all by name, but we appreciate your support. Thank you.

Thanks to Linda Abell for securing and coordinating the delicious breakfast and lunch for the hundreds of walkers. Thanks to Lesley Wolf for preparing packages and securing gifts for team captains. . . . Thanks to Cindy Coltman for arranging all of our entertainment for the adults and children alike. In addition, I would like to thank the Greater Waldorf Jaycees for our kickoff in January, A Woman's Place for our team captain rallies, La Plata Brewhouse Coffees and Hampton Inn for our bank day, and Gustavo's for hosting our top walker luncheon in June.

If I forgot anyone please know that we appreciate your dedication, support and contributions. If you have any comments or suggestions on how we can improve this event, or would like to volunteer for 2005, please contact me at abell@verizon.net.

Jennifer Abell

director, March of Dimes

of Southern Maryland

La Plata