The Charles County Board of Education heard reports Tuesday about the school system’s financial literacy program, comprehensive maintenance plan for 2020, a contract award for Benjamin Stoddert Middle School’s renovation as well as a capital improvement project status and state legislative updates. Superintendent Kimberly Hill also shared board goals and indicators to measure performance in conjunction with the current state of the school system.

“Our staff’s commitment to that work resulted in a great start of the school year for our 27,000 students. We opened our 22nd elementary school, opened a newly renovated Dr. Mudd elementary school, added prekindergarten classes at seven schools, implemented an elementary redistricting and built six more front entrance security vestibules,” Hill said while reading her updated report aloud. “I am still in awe at how smoothly schools reopen each year.”

Regarding Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments this year, Hill emphasized that the school system has “work to do in both math and English/language arts,” although student performance significantly improved in the latter. PARCC math scores, like scores across the state, dropped this year due to “a math teacher shortage” in the county that “continues to make filling math vacancies a challenge,” Hill said.

“As we look for creative ways to deliver instruction, we have decided to pilot a virtual middle school math class to make sure our students receive quality instruction with a certified teacher,” she said.

Since 2015, Hill said, all grades have “continued to outpace the state improvement rate in English/language arts each year.” The biggest gains have come in seventh grade which posted a 15.2-point improvement, and 10th grade with an 18.3-point increase. English/language arts scores for 10th grade increased five points this year, rising to nearly 50%. Overall, math scores for both Charles County and the state have either remained about the same or slightly declined, according to a school system press release.

The press release also noted that in fourth grade reading and math at Mudd, student performance increased by 27 points and 32 points, respectively. Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy went up six points in fifth grade English/language arts and eight points in third grade math, while students at Davis had a 100% pass rate in Algebra I for the third consecutive year.

“I attended the last state school board [meeting] and one of the things that they emphasized was that across the state, the test scores went down in math,” board vice chairwoman Latina “Tina” Wilson said. “It’s not to defend the county, but we have to acknowledge that this is not just our problem. It is a state problem and I applaud you for trying to do something.”

In an effort to put things into perspective, Wilson requested a comparative overview from Hill and her head staff detailing the level of experience for math teachers in Charles County versus others statewide.

“We’re moving from PARCC to another test so there’s a lot of turbulence and a lot of transition,” Wilson added. “Trust me, we want our children, our kids, to succeed in math, but let’s get it right.”

Staff attorney Eric Schwartz gave a legislative update about the new state water testing law that is now in effect, school board membership expansion and sexual abuse prevention.

Schwartz was accompanied by supporting services assistant superintendent Michael Heim who assured that all schools were tested for various water lead levels earlier this year, from mid-March through the end of May, as required by House Bill 1253.

“When we get the results back, if it’s 20 parts per billion or more, we will immediately send out maintenance staff to go out and shut that unit [drinking fountain, kitchen sink or kitchen kettle] off. ... Up to this date, we’ve had 56 outlets, out of 1,396, that exceeded 20 parts per billion,” said Heim, stating that results have not yet been received for seven elementary, one middle and five high schools.

Per House Bill 87 and Senate Bill 529, Schwartz said the state school board has expanded from 12 to 14 members thanks to the addition of one certificated teacher and one parent of a public school student. The state has begun its search for applicants for the new positions, and the state parent teacher association will nominate a parent member.

Schwartz said House Bill 486 requires school systems to take additional steps in gathering and sharing information about potential employees and their employment history related to sexual abuse and misconduct. Each school system in Maryland has struggled with implementing the new requirements, but the hiring process has been extended by weeks for any open position as the new law mandates gathering information from previous employers.

“When we started to implement the bill statewide, we recognized how difficult this actually is and what the impact is going to be on school systems,” Schwartz said. The new mandates have made the hiring process more complex and lengthy, he said.

Prior to its adjournment on Tuesday, the board considered a few new resolutions including National Hispanic Heritage Month to be recognized from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15; LGBTQ and Pride Month recognized in June; and Asian Pacific-American Heritage Month for May.

Board member David Hancock expressed his refusal to support LGBTQ and Pride Month as he said “it is not the job of a public institution to start the dialogue about sexuality at such an early age.” Hancock instead proposed a motion for the board to consider an alternative June resolution, deemed Inclusion and Diversity Month, “that promotes acceptance and acknowledges those who have made sacrifices in the fight for civil and human rights for all people who are different.”

“Every single student deserves to be treated equally and fairly, no matter their lifestyle, their skin color, appearance or any other trait that makes them different,” Hancock said. “The issue I have with this [Pride Month] resolution is that it’s having to do with sexuality. I don’t feel it is our job to address sexuality. ... I fear that our educators and staff will be placed in an uncomfortable position when addressing sexuality with minors, especially minors that they are not the legal guardian of.”

“It just seems like we’re tiptoeing around it,” student board member DeJuan Woods Jr. argued. “I’m personally passionate about this issue. So many students have told me that this is an important thing they’d like to see recognized. … Just having these discussions in the school setting is important for our students because it makes students knowledgeable. It makes teachers more knowledgeable and just creates a more inclusive environment overall in CCPS.”

The board agreed to have further discussions and postponed voting on Hancock’s proposed resolution until next month.

“I think it is important that we specifically identify groups of people who have and will continue to make contributions not just to our school system but to society,” board member Michael Lukas said.

To view Hill’s presentation on the school system’s goals and other reports from the Sept. 10 board meeting, go to go.boarddocs.com/mabe/ccpsmd/Board.nsf/Public.

Twitter: @JClink_MdINDY