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Southern Maryland school officials, teachers and Leadership Maryland members gathered Tuesday morning to listen to the state superintendent of schools and education association president speak about upcoming education initiatives and discuss some of the issues facing educators.

The event, which took place at Barstow Elementary School in Prince Frederick, was hosted by Leadership Maryland and centered around discussion of the Common Core Curriculum and its subsequent new testing measures, as well as the new teacher evaluations mandated by the federal Race to the Top Act.

According to the organization’s website, Leadership Maryland is a statewide “independent, educational, nonprofit organization designed to inform top-level executives, from the public and private sectors, about the critical issues, challenges and opportunities facing the state of Maryland and its regions.”

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery and Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller spoke at Tuesday’s event, followed by a question and answer session by the audience.

Mark MacDougall, senior vice president and general counsel for Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative and member of the Leadership Maryland board of directors, led the discussion.

“There is a difference in getting a high school diploma and being able to do something with it,” Lowery said of MSDE working toward improving the quality of education in Maryland.

Lowery turned attention to the new testing system currently being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers, or PARCC. The consortium, consisting of 25 states including Maryland, are in the process of creating new assessments, which will incorporate Common Core Curriculum teachings in its testing strategy and begin during the 2014-2015 school year. Common Core Curriculum takes English/language arts and mathematic skills as the foundation of basic college and workplace readiness. School systems are in the process of creating goals in each grade level, kindergarten through 12, where students are expected to reach certain levels of understanding in each subject. The PARCC assessments will replace the current Maryland School Assessments.

Of the testing changes in Maryland, Weller said there is likely to be an initial drop in test scores across the state, but “we don’t expect the test scores to stay down,” she said.

The new teaching evaluations are part of the state-issued Education Reform Act of 2010, which was issued by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in February 2010. Part of the Education Reform Act required student growth to be included in teacher evaluations.

“We are having an ongoing conversation [about the teacher evaluations],” Lowery said. “At the end of the day, this isn’t about us, but the people who serve our kids every day.”

Lowery also emphasized the evaluation is not to punish but rather to encourage teachers to obtain professional development when needed, she said.

Weller agreed.

“We want the new evaluations to be a tool [for teachers],” Weller said.

“Charlotte Danielson said, ‘you can’t fire your way to excellence,’” Weller said about the woman who developed the model most teacher evaluations are based upon.

Due to the ongoing and evolving outline of the teacher evaluations, Weller said, it is a “living, breathing document.”

During the question and answer period, questions were raised about technology in rural districts, special education resources and teacher education, communication plans to inform the public about the current and upcoming changes in Maryland education and cyber-bullying.

“[The issue of bullying] is more deep than the school system. It should be a collaborative effort,” Lowery said.

According to Lowery, MSDE is working on ways to improve anti-bullying campaigns.

MSDE is also trying to find ways to incorporate the new teacher and education initiatives into the university and colleges’ teacher education curriculum.

“They know they got to do something different,” Lowery said about secondary educational institutions and educating Maryland’s future teachers.

Tuesday morning’s talk was the second of six stops Leadership Maryland was making this week throughout the state. The idea for the information sessions “simply came out of a mutual conversation” with Leadership Maryland President and CEO Nancy Minieri and Lowery’s office, “where we thought [Leadership Maryland] could help introduce Dr. Lowery to the business community,” Leadership Maryland Director of Member Services Ellen Clarke said.

bmonaco@somdnews.com