Lack of Positive Values Undermines School System

The Howard County public school system is corrupt and dishonest because it is not based on the values of respect, honesty, fairness and integrity.

A positive culture based on those values is needed to make everyone feel valued and respected and to set high standards of behavior for administrators, teachers and students. Under former school superintendent Michael Hickey and the boards with whom he worked, people were allowed to abuse their positions to do favors for others, making the system corrupt.

The recent grade incident at Centennial High School is an example of the abuse of position that has continued to be tolerated in Howard County. Another reason for the corruption has been the intimidation of staff members to keep them from reporting dishonest behavior.

When several instances of changing grades came to light last fall, then-Superintendent John O'Rourke hired an outside agency to investigate the allegations at Centennial because two top school system administrators were involved. Based on the investigator's report, O'Rourke demoted both administrators. I saw that as a major step in changing the culture of the school system. Unfortunately, the Howard County Board of Education overturned his decision and reinstated both top officials.

It is the school board's responsibility to establish a positive culture based on the values of integrity, honesty, fairness and respect. If the school board had been involved in a continuous discussion about those values, it might have made a different decision. Top officials have to be held to a high standard because they represent the school system and supervise others. Board members should not have gotten into a discussion of who is credible or not. They should have used the values as their guide to the kind of behavior they want top officials to have.

If there was even a hint that those officials used their position to change grades, the board should have upheld O'Rourke's decision. Instead of holding school officials to high standards, they have made the teachers at Centennial High scapegoats.

Their decision has undermined the integrity of everyone who works for the school system. It has continued the corruption that results when people abuse their positions and the intimidation that has made people afraid to speak out. Those are the things that needed changing.

As someone who has been trying to reform the school system for over 20 years, I am very upset, disheartened and dispirited by the board's decision.

Laura Waters

Columbia