October 8, 2008

Glen Burnie, North County Top ‘D’ List


Half of schools' freshmen fall below 2.0 GPA; educators seek improvements

Half of all ninth-graders at Glen Burnie and North County high schools had a grade point average below 2.0 at the end of last year, according to a report on student performance in county schools.

The two north county schools, along with Northeast and Meade high schools, are at the leading edge of a problem affecting high school freshmen across the county. One-third of ninth-graders countywide have a "D" average or lower, county school figures show.

The high number of ninth-graders struggling academically has raised alarms.

"This is a crisis," said Eric Sullivan, chairman of the countywide Citizen Advisory Committee, the parent group that advises the Board of Education. "I think we're not unique (among school districts), but we need to take a look at ourselves and say, 'What can we do better?' "

Ned Carey, vice president of the county school board, said contributing factor in north county schools could be income.

"I think that we have larger pockets of economically

disadvantaged kids in Glen Burnie," said Mr. Carey, a Brooklyn Park resident who graduated from county schools.

"Our (north county) schools also share the Baltimore City line. You have kids that come in from the city and move back to the city."

Minorities also experienced a high percentage of students with a D average or worse. The study says 47.9 percent of African-American boys and 55.9 percent of students in poverty had a D or lower, which is less than a 2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

School officials promise to reduce the percentage of ninth- graders with less than a 2.0 to 15 percent by 2012. Progress has been slow. A high school task force in 2007 reported 36 percent of freshmen countywide had below a 2.0, only slightly worse than the 33.2 percent at the end of last year.

Educators hope new efforts and a push to involve the community will finally make a difference.

"We do have some more challenges but we've addressed them," said Frank Drazan, principal at North County High.

"We are getting better. A lot of it is getting the parents to work with us and telling them how they can help."

Vickie Plitt, who started this year as principal at Glen Burnie High, could not be reached for comment.

Students must maintain a 2.0 average on a 4 point scale to participate in after-school activities, including sports.

Those who don't make that C average also are more likely to drop out of high school, said George Arlotto, chief school performance officer for the school system.

Mr. Drazan said his school has dedicated a team of teachers, two guidance councilors and one social worker specifically to their ninth-grade population.

He set up an after-school session in the media center for ninth- graders and encourages teachers to e-mail regular grade reports to parents.

Carlesa Finney, director of equity assurance for county schools, said the school system is particularly trying to raise the grades of African-American boys. Countywide, 47.9 percent of African-American boys had a D average or below in last year's report; at Glen Burnie High School it was 70.5 percent and at North County High School it was 65.8 percent.

Boys in general develop later, which is why many parents hold their boys back a year before starting kindergarten, Ms. Finney said. And more African-American boys are being raised by single mothers, meaning they often don't have male role models who encourages them to do well in school, she said.

"They have a deficit in family and role-model support," Ms. Finney said.

Tutors and mentors can give African-American boys the adult support they're not getting at home, which is why the school system is trying to gather more volunteers from the community.

Bob Mosier, county schools spokesman, said these programs, along with a new scheduling plan for eighth-graders to help ease their transition to high school, are already paying off.

The system saw a 3.3 percentage point reduction in the number of students under a 2.0 between the 2006 and the 2007 school years, he said.

Mr. Mosier said he doubted there were common factors that linked the performance of ninth-graders in north county schools.

"I don't think you can look at it and say it's a north county issue," he said. "I think every school is different. Initiatives and programs in one school don't work in another school."

Bad grades

The figures come from a report generated each semester showing the percentage of ninth-graders with less than a 2.0 GPA. The report from the end of the last school year shows that countywide, 33.2 percent, or 6,099 freshmen, had less than a 2.0.

It also shows stark differences between high schools: At Severna Park the percentage of ninth-graders with a GPA under 2.0 was 10.7 percent.

Beginning high school with grades that low puts them on a tough path to higher education. From that level, it's hard to pull up their grades to levels accepted by four-year colleges, said Shannon Gundy, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Maryland, College Park. And if they can't do it, admissions officers will doubt they can handle a college workload.

"It's unusual for a student who has made a deficient start to turn around and become a really good student," Ms. Gundy said, adding that most freshmen at her university earned a high school B average, about a 3.5 GPA.

Still, Marti Pogonowski, director of continuous school improvement for county schools and a former ninth-grade teacher, said she has seen freshmen grow out of their difficult middle school years and learn to focus on their schoolwork.

"It's hard to get up to a 4.0, but if they get the idea they can dig themselves out to a respectable GPA," she said.


Under a strategic plan approved by the Board of Education last year, schools are supposed to drive that number down to 15 percent by 2012.

Mr. Carey pointed toward a restructuring of teacher communication as another factor that should have a positive affect on student grades.

"Now we do things by cluster so we have teachers communicating to one another from level to level within a feeder system," he said.

Educators are going to continue trying a number of options.

"The experts don't even have the answer and I think the real answer is a combination of all these programs," he said.

The countywide Citizen Advisory Committee will discuss the 2.0 GPA report at its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at 2644 Riva Road in Parole. {Corrections:} {Status:}

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