- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2000

A couple of months ago, Prince George's County officials held a press conference to announce their priorities this year. At the top of their short list to the General Assembly was $44 million in school construction. The money will be useful as school officials struggle to resolve longstanding desegregation issues and face aging school buildings amid a growing school-age population. What deserves immediate attention as well are not just the school buildings but the students housed in those school buildings.

Like the majority-black school district in Baltimore, the Prince George's County School System is in desperate need of attention. Parents have urged as much time and again, and the state legislature has warned school officials several times in recent years that it will take over those schools whose students consistently test poorly. Most of the county's underperforming schools ring the Beltway, where communities are less affluent than their outlying counterparts. For their part, officials have tried solve educational inequities and academic inferiorities with magnet schools. But true reform always calls for more more magnet schools, more curriculum reform and new charter schools.

You have only to look at recent SAT scores to get a clear picture. Prince George's SAT scores are only slightly better than the District's (889 vs. 813), while neighboring Montgomery County has the highest combined SAT scores in the Washington region (1,096). As things now stand, Prince George's can boast of only one high school that comes even close to Montgomery's rankings: Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, whose combined SAT average is 1,076 the highest in the county.

How did Roosevelt achieve such rankings? First of all the principal and teaching staff were encouraged to establish their own curriculum and faculty, and it had a topflight principal, Gerald L. Boarman, who turned around Oxon Hill Middle School before taking over Roosevelt in 1989. While at Oxon Hill Mr. Boarman helped raise standardized test scores from 23rd place to third place in Maryland. At Roosevelt, he oversaw a prestigious math and science program, innovative teachers and seven language programs. The result is a school that is at the very top as regards advanced placement. Roosevelt's graduates won $30 million in scholarships last year compared to $1.2 million in 1989.

Unfortunately, Roosevelt can only accommodate so many students. Moreover, officials are threatening to undermine those accomplishments by considering merging Roosevelt with a struggling school, DuVal High School. It is hoped Iris Metts, who became superintendent of Maryland's largest school district in July, is smart enough to know that merging the two schools would lead to chaos. It makes no sense to dismantle a school that exemplifies true academic achievement when parents, students and teachers are interested in the successful programs not the building.

There are other options that grant students on all grade levels and in other parts of the county similar opportunities. The programs and achievements at Roosevelt can surely be replicated elsewhere. After all, you really cannot argue with success.

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