by Nicole Wesche, opinions editor, and Gabby Lewis, news editor
On October 26th, 2017, Howard County interim superintendent, Dr. Michael Martirano, held a press conference at the Department of Education building for student journalists from across the county. His purpose was to give the student a glimpse at plans he has for Howard County in order to truly implement equity over equality.
Dr. Martirano opened the conference by giving his background and why he is so passionate about each and every student that is part of Howard County schools. His philosophy as a leader is “to lead is to serve,” and so, he is consistently making an effort to be involved in the lives of the 56,000 students in 76 schools in Howard County.
“I consider every one of the children, young persons, as my children in the sense of making sure every child is accepted as is welcomed into our school.”
He is driven by social justice, a moral leader, and he makes it a priority to ensure that every young person gets the best education that they can receive without any bias or injustice hindering them. As a result, his solutions to Howard County’s problems work towards accommodating each student so they have an equal opportunity to succeed while not being overwhelmed by obstacles which can be removed.
Martirano then delved into the issues he wants to fix right away starting with academic demands on students’ shoulders. He understands the academic pressure that parents and/or school environment place on students to achieve at exceptional levels.
To help to balance the workload students face, the homework policy is under review in the board as the necessity and quantity of homework given continues to be evaluated. Martirano says, “I want to make certain that we are… providing that balance [between academic work and extracurriculars]. There… has to be more communication between our teachers because if each teacher gave an hour of homework each night, that’s seven or eight hours of homework which is extremely unreasonable.”
Martirano is also working towards ensuring that all high schoolers graduate; Howard County currently has an average 93% graduation rate, which is well above the national and Maryland average, yet instead of celebrating this number he is focused on the other 7%. “Every possible social woe is much more prevalent in those that drop out,” says Martirano.
He wants to establish schools for students who plan to go straight into the workforce instead of attending college, another way to ensure equity over equality with fair chances at succeeding for everyone, not just for students going into university.
Another issue Martirano plans to fix is the over- and under-population of high schools, an issue which has faced much controversy due to how the district lines will be redrawn to balance out every school’s population. Specifically for River Hill, one of the smallest schools in Howard County, changes may potentially becoming as our population continues to drop while other schools, such as Howard, Centennial, and Long Reach, near reaching maximum capacity.
Martirano has suggested to the board to not redistrict high schools until the opening of a thirteenth high school, but until then, transferring schools may be a new option for students from the overcrowded districts. Martirano says,
“The long-term vision is that I want to populate [the under-crowded schools, specifically River Hill and Oakland Mills], with, in theory, 350 students… and I want to begin that process, get that cemented in, and then carry that plan to all of our high schools once we get through redistricting.”
The only possible issue that may ensue is that these students must provide their own transportation, so students would need either a car available for their use or a parent to drive them instead of taking the bus. In order to make sure this won’t hinder students, Martirano looks to provide transportation for the students going to schools out of their district, ensuring the students can still go to the school that’s right for them without transportation as an obstacle.
Another change that we have all heard about is the possible change in high school start times from 7:25 am to a later time. Students from all high schools continue to worry about the time commitments of extracurricular sports/clubs as well as the hours it takes to complete homework, resulting in a lack of sleep due to staying up late to finish work and waking up early for school.
There have been many studies on how adolescents perform better later in the day and how waking up very early can potentially affect sleep cycles and patterns as well. Martirano says start times will be reviewed more after the formal redistricting of the county, but he states, “The only thing that [may be firm] is that no schools can start earlier than eight o’clock.” His plans depend on further discussion between him and the board.
Martirano closed the conference by declaring that he “has so much faith in the students today and has hope for the future.” He firmly believes that Howard County’s school system could be the premier school system in America if they resolve all current issues and any other issues that plague school systems all over the country.