Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Middle schoolers allowed to carry their cell phones

Damascus educator a finalist for state teacher of the year

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Middle school students no longer need a waiver to carry cell phones — but must turn them off in class — after schools Superintendent Jerry D. Weast eased the restrictions this summer.

The school board approved a policy last year that allowed middle school students to carry cell phones during weekend or evening activities. During school hours, the students could carry the phone only if granted a waiver by the school after a conference with parents and administrators.

An earlier policy required a waiver from the principal but did not require a conference with parents. In 2002, board member Sharon W. Cox (At-large) of Germantown proposed changing that requirement because increasing numbers of conferences could burden principals, she said. Board member Stephen N. Abrams (Dist. 2) of Rockville suggested making the conferences an option, and not a requirement.

High school students are also allowed to have phones and must turn them off during class.

During the June 25 meeting, board member Patricia B. O’Neill, who advocated the policy change, said cell phones are ‘‘ubiquitous” in today’s world.

‘‘We don’t want cell phones to become a nuisance,” said O’Neill (Dist. 3) of Bethesda. ‘‘Certainly, we would have to monitor cell phone usage.”

Middle school principals had been concerned that the phones would ring during classes, be used for text messaging or to take pictures in locker rooms or bathrooms.

A finalist forstate teacher of the year

Raul Ortiz, named the county’s teacher of the year in April, is one of seven finalists for the Maryland Teacher of the Year award, state Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick announced.

Ortiz spent 19 years as an automotive technician before receiving a teaching certification and earning a master’s degree equivalency in education.

A panel of judges that included principals, teachers, school board and teachers’ union members, students, parents and higher education officials, selected the finalists.

Ortiz and the other finalists will be interviewed Sept. 15. The winner will be announced Oct. 5 during a gala reception and dinner at Martins West in Baltimore County. The teacher of the year wins money and other awards, spends the upcoming year as speaker and adviser and will compete for national teacher of the year.

First dayof a new school year

Students returned to school on Monday. The school system — the state’s largest, with roughly 137,000 students in 200 schools — recognized the first day with a full-scale news conference at the newly renovated $31.4 million Parkland Magnet Middle School in Rockville.

The system also opened a new school, Arcola Elementary, a $17.1 million facility in Silver Spring.

‘‘We’re going to have a great school year,” Weast told students, teachers, administrators and reporters.

Longtime school official retires

Brian J. Porter, Weast’s chief of staff since 2004, is retiring to work full time on a doctorate in education policy and leadership studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

His retirement is effective Oct. 1.

Porter, 53, is completing a dissertation that examines crisis decision-making by Montgomery school leaders during the deadly October 2002 sniper attacks that paralyzed the region.

‘‘I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with you,” Porter wrote in an Aug. 16 letter to Weast. ‘‘I made this decision with mixed emotions. There are great challenges ahead for this school system and many people I will miss who are my friends and colleagues.”

In the letter, Porter said the school system ‘‘is far better now than at any other time” because of Weast’s reforms and initiatives.

Porter joined the school system 17 years ago as director of communications before becoming Weast’s chief of staff. Before joining Montgomery, he was director of public affairs and communications for the Prince George’s County Public Schools and assistant to the president for public information at Bowie State College.

‘‘I expect him to be a college professor some day,” Weast said of Porter at the Aug. 23 board meeting.

Weast said he would have a recommendation for a new chief of staff by the Sept. 11 school board meeting.