Frederick County’s ‘Superintendent Chat’ allows candid dialogue -- Gazette.Net


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Although her children are not old enough for school, Walkersville resident and mother of three, Lee Fuhr, is already worried that they may have a hard time fitting electives like art, music or foreign language into their schedule.

With the current block scheduling that Frederick County Public Schools use, students don’t have many options for electives and can sometimes be forced to choose between important academic courses and electives, such as music or foreign languages.

Hoping that the school system would address the problem in the future, Fuhr and her husband came to Walkersville High School Monday night to talk directly about their concerns with Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban.

“I do think it is important that they address this concern. Our children aren’t in the school system yet so it is important for us to share our concerns,” Fuhr said.

The couple was among two dozen parents, PTA representatives and community members who turned out to ask questions, raise concerns and speak with Alban informally on a variety of education topics.

The event — the first in a series of community chats with the superintendent to take place throughout the year — allowed parents to question Alban about such tough challenges as the school system’s block schedule, the possibility of another teacher work-to-rule protest action and the upcoming changes in the way that teachers are evaluated.

Sponsored by the PTA Council of Frederick County, the chat allowed parents and other stakeholders to meet with Alban in an informal setting, said M. C. Keegan Ayer, the second vice president for the council.

“This is a chance for you to have a dialogue,” Keegan-Ayer told the parents.

The “Superintendent Chats” have a been a tradition in Frederick County for years, but last year generated low attendance.

Organizers this year were able to double the attendance to about 30 people by holding it at a school, rather than at the school system’s central office building in Frederick, Keegan-Ayer said. About a dozen school system staff members were also present.

Parents who came to the chat were from different parts of the county, with students at the elementary, middle and high school level, and represented traditional public schools, as well as charter schools.

“I think we had a good variety,” Keegan-Ayer said.

Among other issues, Alban was asked to explain why the school system does not do background checks on parent volunteers, and why spending on federal mandates related to special education keeps increasing every year.

She told parents that in the current economic climate, the school system cannot afford to fingerprint all the volunteers who offer to help schools. But Alban also assured parents that teachers never leave volunteers with children without supervision.

Alban also explained the circumstances under which special education students are placed in private schools and stressed that the cost of such placement has been increasing disproportionately to public school funding.

She also spoke candidly about the school system’s ongoing efforts to improve staffing at individual schools and provide more guidance counselors for high schools.

“Even our students recognize that need,” Alban said. “We are aware of it and we are working on it.”

Alban was also pleased with the event, and the opportunity to hear questions and concerns directly from parents.

The event was open for everyone in the community, and organizers also allowed residents to submit questions for the superintendent via email or Twitter.

“I was delighted with the turnout,” Alban said.

She not only answered most questions publicly, but also stayed afterward to speak in person on matters concerning specific students or teachers.

Walkersville High School PTSA President Susan Writer said she enjoyed the event, which gave her an opportunity to get honest answers about the challenges with the upcoming negotiations between the school board and the teachers union.

“I feel a little better now,” she said. “It was good to hear from other parents with common concerns.”

mraycheva@gazette.net