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Four school leaders discuss calendar, uniforms, class size

Tuesday - 8/16/2011, 11:59am  ET

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St. Mary's County Superintendent Michael Martirano, D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Montgomery County School Superintendent Joshua Starr. (WTOP/Paul D. Shinkman)

Ask the Schools

WTOP's Mark Segraves speaks to public school leaders from Loudoun, Montgomery, St. Mary's counties, and D.C.

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WASHINGTON -- Four leaders of local education appeared Tuesday on "Ask the Schools" with Mark Segraves, to discuss uniforms, prayer and academic standards in schools, along with planning and altering the school calendar.

The guests included Montgomery County School Superintendent Joshua Starr, D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar Hatrick and St. Mary's County Superintendent Michael Martirano.

Growth in all school systems combined with budget cuts is putting a strain on the teaching staffs, the four agreed. Loudoun County will have 3,000 new students this year, and St. Mary's county has had to cut 60 teachers.

Many schools are increasing the average class sizes from the low to mid 20s, but the four emphasized they would rather have a larger class with a high quality teachers than the other way around.

Henderson pointed to one physics class of 30 taught by one of her system's best teachers, who engages her students by breaking them down into smaller, concentrated groups.

While there is a policy against schools leading students in religious programs, there is nothing to prevent students from practicing their own beliefs on school grounds, said Hatrick.

While speaking about time away from school, like snow days, Matirano said here are 180 days mandated by law for Maryland students, adding they need to also keep track of "seat hours." His priorities for the school year are toward maximizing time in class, he said.

Hatrick discussed Loudoun County's workaround to snow closures, made easier by the state measuring their performance in class hours, instead of days. The county's 1,100 hours of instruction exceeds the state minimum of 990, eliminating their need to make up for snow days.

Loudoun schools need to move away from the "agrarian calendar" and shorten the summer vacation, when many students lose a lot of what they've learned. Matirano agreed that there is a significant amount of "regression" for students during summer months.

They also touched upon recent shifts in the beginning of the school day, which begins at 9 a.m. for Loudoun County high school students. Data indicates that is a healthier beginning of the day for teens, Hatrick said.

Standardized testing can sometimes misrepresent the quality of public education, they said, such as No Child Left Behind. "We're not interested in a system that labels our teachers as failing when they're not," said Henderson.

The standards in America aren't as high as they should be, Starr said.

Check out the full audio at right for more of the leaders' perspectives.

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