Voices From The Readers – June 30, 2023

Voices From The Readers – June 30, 2023

Retired County Teacher Refutes Letter’s Claims
I am writing in response to Tony Christ of Falls Church, Va.’s letter to the editor published in the June 23 edition of The Dispatch.
Lest Mr. Christ leave readers with the impression that 1970 was the “golden age” of education in Worcester County, let me share some of my experiences at Stephen Decatur High School in the academic year ’69-’70, the first year of my 46-year tenure at SDHS. In the fall of 1969, Stephen Decatur High School was just coming out of a tumultuous period during which a principal was either fired or forced to resign mid-year. Teachers at SDHS had been resigning prior to that principal’s departure.
A new principal had taken over and was hiring new staff as teacher turnover remained high. I was hired to teach 8th and 9th grade English and 12th grade psychology. In 1969-70 SDHS was on a split schedule serving students from grades 7 through 12. We had no teacher aides, one vice-principal, one guidance counselor (that I can remember.) I do not remember if we had a school nurse. There was no special education department. Special ed students were bused from the school after homeroom and educated elsewhere. SDHS homeroom teachers took their attendance. All records, including attendance and grades, were entered by hand. Student load per year was approximately 180 students. Students were tracked into eight levels, with level one being the highest level and level eight the lowest. There were few “advanced” courses being offered, no AP courses or their equivalent, no dual enrollment.
Many of our male teachers had entered the teaching profession to avoid the draft. The war in Vietnam was still very active and deadly. You could not get a teaching position if you were openly gay. There was no accommodation at SDHS for students with a diagnosis of autism or who were on the autism spectrum; likewise for students with hearing deficits, visual deficits, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or other learning disabilities. Pregnant students were not allowed to attend classes or, if pregnant at graduation time, receive their diplomas at a graduation ceremony.
Worcester County’s public schools were not yet fully integrated. There were limited opportunities for students in the arts, most of those in music. There was no football team or program. There was no golf team, swim team, lacrosse team. There were limited team sports opportunities available for girls. That year, my salary was $7,200. Let me repeat. With a bachelor’s degree, fully licensed and certified, I was paid $7,200 (seven thousand two hundred dollars) for the year.
My salary when I retired in 2015 was significantly higher. This may be attributed, at least in part, to the accumulated rate of inflation. From 1970 to 2020, according to Inflation Calculator, the rate of inflation in the U.S. was 620.93%. (That’s six hundred and twenty point … okay, 621%.)
Over my 46 years at SDHS, I saw an expanded curriculum, special education services provided through an in-house credentialed special education department, the introduction of new courses in the arts, as well as new opportunities in athletics; the complete re-imagining of VoTech to include high level courses in engineering, technology, and science along with more traditional trades that require highly trained and skilled employees; the introduction of Advanced Placement courses offering college credit to students who earn a 3, 4, or 5 on AP exams, dual college enrollment, the inclusion of classes for non-English speakers, and the full integration of Worcester County Public Schools.
A degree from WCPS is no longer referred to as a “terminal” degree, as it was in 1970. No longer are some of our students the first in their families to graduate from high school or go on to college. The dropout rate in Worcester County stood at 7% in 2022, two points lower than the state average of 9%. I went from teaching students my first year at SDHS in the lowest level English classes who could not name the ocean that their home county bordered on to teaching AP Psychology students who could pass the AP exam with a 5 and theatre students who could understand, explicate, and perform Shakespearean plays in an outdoor courtyard theatre they had built themselves.
Rather than show dismay and disdain that 71 students need remedial help as they enter our local community college, I see this as a continual striving on the part of these students to achieve what they have struggled to achieve throughout their academic careers. I do not know their backgrounds or why they have struggled academically. Neither does Mr. Christ. These 71 may never be headed to Johns Hopkins or UPenn or NYU like some of our graduates, but there is no shame for them or our schools that they are still striving, still determined to succeed in a world that too often makes that success easy for some and nearly impossible for others.

Gwen Freeman Lehman
Ocean Pines
(The writer was a teacher at Stephen Decatur High School from 1969 to 2015.)


Reflections On Recent School Board Comments
I would like to comment on board member Elena McComas remarks directed at board member Katie Addis.
I have attended most of the Board of Education meetings, specifically the meetings this spring when the County Commissioners began requesting a line-item budget. The Board of Education did not have the line-item budget request sprung on them, with only a few weeks notice, following the budget articles in The Dispatch and on social media would establish the request were reported on as early as March.
Also, I have never heard Katie Addis speak a disparaging word about Mr. Tolbert or his staff. Mrs. Addis has only questioned the “process and product” a budget lacking itemized expenditures and details, a budget process that I am sure Mr. Tolbert inherited when he assumed the CFO position, a problem easily resolved given the software and technical expertise on staff at the board. Nor do I recall Mrs. Addis “smearing” other board members. She has attempted to introduce and discuss subjects and information that she feels the citizens, parents, teachers and taxpayers should be aware of or are entitled to know about.
Mrs. Addis has endured many condescending comments from other board members and superintendent, accused of wasting the board’s time, reproached for brings up off limit topics. Katie Addis wisely pushed the board to issue a second letter to State Board of Education Superintendent Choudhury, reiterating their opposition to H.B. 119, a revised House Bill, which had it passed, would be the first step in forcing individual Maryland counties to relinquish their power to make local decisions for our children and students to the state of Maryland. Dr. Andes very prudently seconded Katie Addis motion. Fortunately, the house bill died. It will be presented again and our Board of Education, the citizens of Worcester County and all of Maryland must voice our opposition as state mandates effectively negate local Board of Education’s power.

If the Board has no power, there will no reason to elect a Board of Education for Worcester County. And let’s not forget what is at the center of all the controversy, the Blueprint for Maryland, which mandates the counties of Maryland to subsidize a 10-year escalating education budget over and above what the county already funds. Are the taxpayers of Worcester County concerned that we will probably face rising Real Property taxes to afford the ever-rising cost of the services the county currently provides the residents of Worcester County, let alone what cost will be incurred with the Blueprint’s 10-year incremental budget? Can all county departments present burgeoning budget wish lists to the Commissioners with no accountability and expect the commissioners to fund every department request?

The Board of Education has been fortunate to be fully funded, consistently, obviously, there must be budget constraints. Yes, the Board of Ed budget has become a heated topic and could have been so easily and quickly resolved by providing the requested budget. When attending Board of Education meetings, I present my timed, two-minute statements, the Board courteously listens, thanks me, offers a board policy response and occasionally one of the board members will offer an opinion. Nothing resolved. That’s usually it, the next board meeting, the board and I do the same thing again. Wouldn’t it be great if the board, teachers, parents could all sit down at the table together and share ideas and curriculum, discuss concerns and issues to produce the best learning experience for our Worcester County students?

Patricia G. Barbely