The superintendent of the St. Mary’s public schools told business and community leaders last week that classrooms are heading into a time of change.
“The state of St. Mary’s County public schools is strong,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said. “It is strong, but in transition.”
Martirano outlined several reforms that are under way not only in St. Mary’s but across the country that will change the way education looks.
The major reform for learning is the new Common Core Curriculum. The new classroom framework puts in place lessons across all grade levels and will align, at least to some degree, teaching in most states.
Students will take standardized assessments associated with the new curriculum on computers, Martirano said during a state of the schools presentation sponsored by the St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce, adding that pencils and paper are now “extinct tools, in many ways.”
And, those test results will now be incorporated for the first time in teachers’ and principals’ evaluations.
Bill Scarafia, president of the chamber of commerce, said about 100 people attended the luncheon presentation at the Olde Breton Inn in Leonardtown.
“I don’t think that many people were aware of the transition that is happening in the school system,” he said. “This is the one time when you get to have the data presented all at the same time, and I think that’s very helpful to the people in the room.”
He said business leaders have a wide range of interests in how schools are doing, especially since the students are the potential workforce.
In response to a question, Martirano addressed new school construction, including the next new elementary school that is set to open in 2015 in Leonardtown on property known as the Hayden farm. Another new elementary school will be needed soon in the Lexington Park area to help relieve overcrowding, he said.
A middle school is also planned; that will go on the Hayden property in Leonardtown, as currently envisioned. Projections of enrollment also show the need for a new high school sometime in the next decade, he said.
Another question was about how the schools address cultural differences. The school system hired a full-time diversity and equity specialist this summer and put new lessons in at every grade to teach about differences in people and tolerance.
Martirano said people need to report incidents of bullying in order fir the schools to address them. The schools will work to teach acceptance of others, he said, regardless of what beliefs might be taught at home.
The final question of the day regarded how much of the budget goes to pay teachers. Martirano said that about 83 percent of the $183 million budget goes to pay salaries and benefits. That amount includes all staff, not just teachers.
Another approximate 10 percent goes to fixed charges such as fuel and utilities, leaving a small percentage for “discretionary spending” for programs, supplies, etc.
Enrollment in St. Mary’s public schools has continued to grow, he said, with about 17,500 students this year. “All of our schools are over capacity,” Martirano said. He said there have been some 2,000 students added to the schools since he became superintendent about seven years ago.
Martirano said that the private and parochial schools in the county offer fine education, as well, and that without them the public schools would be even more crowded. “I want our private schools and parochial schools to maintain that success,” Martirano said.
The demographics of children in public schools have changed, too. Now nearly one-third of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, meaning they come from families considered as having low incomes.
The African-American and Hispanic populations have also inched up in local schools, though not as much as some other counties in Maryland, such as Charles.
The superintendent also took the opportunity to present positive statistics related to tests and other performance measures.
The school system’s graduation rate increased significantly this past year, Martirano said. Though not officially released by the state, the graduation rate for the class of 2012 was 89.34 percent, he said. That is an increase of almost 6 points from the previous year.
Martirano credited a new online course recovery program called Apex, which allows high school students to retake a failed class using a streamlined computer course with a teacher still overseeing the work.
He also touted the success of the Fairlead Academy, which offers small class sizes and more individualized attention for students deemed at risk of dropping out.
The percentage of students who scored 3 or higher on an Advanced Placement exam jumped significantly this year to about 67 percent. The school system changed its policy on paying for the exams, now only offering to reimburse students who had passing scores.
The pass rates for the Maryland State Assessments in reading and math for grades three through eight continued to show strong, he said, with most pass rates in the 80 to 90 percent range or higher. “That’s all A’s and B’s,” Martirano said.