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March 22, 2008

Budget cuts prompt changes for Magnet program

by Kiera Zitelman, Online Editor-in-Chief and David Meyer, Print Managing News Editor & Print Ombudsman
The Magnet program will lose an unspecified number of positions and some teacher planning periods next year due to MCPS budget cuts, according to Magnet Coordinator Dennis Heidler. The changes have led to an outcry among several Magnet parents and teachers. Parents have been communicating their dissent on a Magnet list serve, and several teachers have expressed their intention to leave the program.

According to Heidler, the Magnet faces budget cuts that will result in elimination of planning periods for teachers of junior and senior classes. The planning periods are essential to the interdisciplinary elements of the ninth and tenth grade curricula, and teachers of those classes will still have them next year. While regular teachers generally teach five classes and have one planning period, many magnet teachers teach only four classes and have two planning periods.

Heidler, Principal Darryl Williams and several community school officials will be present at an April 2 meeting in the Blair auditorium for parents regarding the budget cuts. On March 20, Heidler released a memorandum encouraging parents to attend the meeting and promising to answer any questions about the possible changes.

On Sunday, March 15, a Magnet parent sent an email to the Magnet parent list serve saying she had heard of the changes and possible resignations from an undisclosed Magnet teacher. Rosanne Hurwitz, another parent, has created a separate online forum devoted to the issue.

Several teachers have expressed their discomfort with the possible modifications. Math teacher Eric Walstein believes that the changes go against the founding philosophy of the Magnet. "It's changing the Magnet to do something it was never designed to do," he said.

Heidler stressed that the Magnet curriculum and its effect on the students will not be altered. However, the order in which the courses are taught will have to change due to position cuts. According to Heidler, this adjustment will not alter the level of education. "That doesn't change what the students are going to walk away with," he said.

Some teachers will be reassigned to other teaching positions, Heidler said, but specifics will not be released until the specific date the teacher's contract allows it. He stressed that teachers who have at this point indicated they will leave are doing so on their own accord. Only one Magnet elective, Advanced Applications of Software, will be eliminated, mostly due to low enrollment. Biochemistry and Advanced Geometry were not offered for course registration this year.

More non-Magnet Blair teachers will teach Magnet classes next year, but no Magnet teachers will have to teach regular courses, Heidler said.
The budget cuts are a result of stress on the MCPS budget – 80 percent of which is funded by taxes from the struggling real estate market. The fiscal year 2009 budget, which the MCPS Board of Education has already approved, will not be finalized until the County Council votes on it on May 1.



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  • Magnet Sophomore on March 22, 2008 at 9:36 PM
    Nooooo....advanced apps :(
  • zomg on March 22, 2008 at 10:28 PM
    It's WORSE for non-Magnet teachers to teach Magnet classes than the other way around. Trust me -- I've had a Magnet class taught by a non-Magnet teacher. It transformed what could have been an excellent, informative, and interesting class into a daily nightmare of boredom, the teacher learning the material -- and then not very well -- along with the students, and a class completely without active and interesting discussion on the course matter.
  • chickenlittle on March 23, 2008 at 9:56 AM
    the sky is falling!! the sky is falling!! magnet teachers have to teach another class?!?! omg, what shall we do? resign? no, at least they won't have to teach the non-magnet.

    well said zomg, non magnet teachers teaching magnet sudents is tragic--how could you ever be expected to learn from someone in such a lowly caste?
  • Jimbo on March 23, 2008 at 12:36 PM
    And they say CAP kids have a sense of entitlement...
  • zomg on March 23, 2008 at 3:59 PM
    The teacher never actually taught the material -- just told us to read the chapter and do some problems, while the teacher frantically read the chapter in an effort to be able to answer our questions about the problems.

    That shouldn't happen in ANY course, least of all the ones that make the Magnet as effective as it is.
  • Magnet Student on March 23, 2008 at 4:54 PM
    chickenlittle

    I think most magnet students would not mind if non-magnet teachers teach them as long as the courses stay the same quality. You should not ignore the magnet students that take English, Social Studies, etc. with non-magnet teachers. The problem is that many non-magnet teachers are not as qualified as magnet teachers so it is not for certain that they would teach the courses at the same quality.

    For some reason, you believe the magnet is made up of elitists. You choose the bits of the news story that fuel your prejudice and you add your own spin to it to make it seem as if you are wronged and as if you are part of a lower caste. This is called self-pity. You are angry that you are subject to such discrimination. The funny thing is that this discrimination only exists in your mind; there is no actual discrimination against you. Sarcasm may be clever to use, but sarcasm mixed with your own made-up fantasies is not very effective but quite offensive.
  • Different Magnet Student on March 23, 2008 at 7:20 PM
    You mentioned in your article that "While regular teachers generally teach five classes and have one planning period, many magnet teachers teach only four classes and have two planning periods." Even for teachers of junior and senior classes, these extra planning periods are important. These magnet teachers may have only four class periods, but they often teach several different elective classes, some or all of which are not even offered at other schools in the county. In four class periods, they may be teaching three different classes. These teachers have to basically write their own curricula for those classes, and so the extra planning period is important for them, too.
  • Magnet Sophomore on March 23, 2008 at 11:01 PM
    I've heard that eight Magnet teachers are leaving
  • An informed magnet student on March 24, 2008 at 1:11 PM
    "I've heard that eight Magnet teachers are leaving" -- Only three teachers are leaving

    "In four class periods, they may be teaching three different classes. These teachers have to basically write their own curricula for those classes, and so the extra planning period is important for them, too." -- Well said. However, there are two additional points that must be raised:
    (1) Biochem, advanced geometry, and origins of math (which wasn't mentioned in the article) were cut because they were on a pilot-only basis. This essentially means that the magnet can't create any new electives -- ever. So as far as the county is concerned, all the classes are already fully developed and teachers don't need to plan them anymore.
    (2) The teachers' union contract actually says that teachers can only teach three different classes per semester. So theoretically, a teacher could teach five periods *if* those five consist of only three different classes. Some teachers already teach more -- Dr. Miller has six periods, but they are three identical double periods, so it's like only preparing for one class and only grading the papers for three.

    "I think most magnet students would not mind if non-magnet teachers teach them as long as the courses stay the same quality." -- That is exactly the problem. Mr. Prange already teaches Analytical Chemistry, a magnet class, but students still take it because he's a good teacher. Remember that Mr. Schafer, Mr. Kaluta, and Mrs. Ragan all came from the non-magnet and they are great teachers. What we have to ensure is that the non-magnet teachers who teach magnet classes are as well-qualified as the other magnet teachers.

    "Nooooo....advanced apps :(" -- Unlike the other three classes that were cut, advanced apps will be back the following year if enough students sign up for it.
  • Magnet Alumnus on March 24, 2008 at 11:27 PM
    Many Magnet alumni have written letters of dissent to the MCPS BoE, arguing against what is basically the dissolution of the Magnet program. Some letters--I know that mine and several of my friends'--were two to three pages long, single-spaced.

    I have to wonder, why create a second Magnet--while restricting the applicant pools for both--and then fail to fund them?
  • Alum on March 26, 2008 at 11:02 PM
    Who's leaving?
  • liberal on March 29, 2008 at 7:18 PM
    Where is the article about all the rest of the school losing money. If SCO is only concerned about the magnet and CAP, why haven't non-magnets seceded and started our own paper. If you ask a magnet teachers why they want 2 planning periods, it is not because they need to plan it is because they do not want to teach an extra period. So if they want less classes to teach. Why doesn't MCPS pay them less. Also, it is harder to teach on-level classes because you have to worry about getting the kids motivated.

    Also NO ONE IS LEAVING!!! Mr. Bundy is leaving under his own accords after 200 years of teaching. NO ONE IS LEAVING!!!

    If you don't stop lying, misquoting people, and representing the special programs solely, why don't we create a paper for ourselves and representing our own interests.
  • JQ (View Email) on March 30, 2008 at 8:35 PM
    There is no change. Students will get the same quality education. No!!! Ask Mr. Pham for the curriculum for Analytical Chem and compare what is teaching. There is a big difference. A washed-down and lied curriculum with larger classes are wrong. This is a defferent Magnet Program. Why should students go here. The classes are nothing better than AP classes. I should attend my home school, and I will have the same education.
  • JQ (View Email) on March 30, 2008 at 8:41 PM
    "Mr. Prange already teaches Analytical Chemistry, a magnet class, but students still take it because he's a good teacher." I signed up for Analytical Chem, because Mr. Pham said he will teach the course. My sister took Analytical Chem, and she said she is wasting her time.
  • A Magnet on March 31, 2008 at 6:03 AM
    1. Which classes will be taught by non-magnet teachers? I will not take those classes.

    2. Ms. Ragan was one of the original Magnet teachers. She taught computer and Math.

    3. "An informed magnet student: Only three teachers are leaving." Who are you? How many teachers are searching for different teaching position or retirement? How many are on transfered list?

    4. Who will sponsor clubs? Lab? Wallops island? etc. Think about that.
  • Edmond on March 31, 2008 at 10:23 AM
    I don't understand why Blair isn't fighting this more. Magnet is the only program of value this school has. We lose that, what have we got left? CAP? Don't make me laugh.
  • Another Magnet on March 31, 2008 at 4:59 PM
    A Magnet -- only three teachers were fired, but many more may leave.
  • Another Alumnus on March 31, 2008 at 10:34 PM
    Ask yourself this: What in academia is MCPS known for? I know this: I, and my friends, are at elite colleges across the US. When I mention MCPS, there is no reaction until we clarify--"the one with the Magnet?" Then people go ohhhhh that place in Maryland.

    Bottom line is, once word gets out about how MCPS screwed the Magnet, consider its fame out the window
  • Edmond on April 1, 2008 at 8:31 AM
    Another Alumnus:
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think this county over-hypes itself, which is disappointing, to say the least. We may be "well-funded"(that may be ending soon) but that does not make us great. We have to be well-funded because the cost of living and operating in Montgomery County is extremely high. I repeat: funding does not equal quality education. It is certainly a factor, but without things like the magnet, we’re nothing but expensive.

    I also despise this county’s so-called "excellent education" because that illusion has brought so many families into our area, contributing heavily to the absurd amount of overcrowding. This in turn reduces the quality of the education for those already here. We, the students, are lost in the maelstrom.
  • blazer on April 1, 2008 at 10:20 PM
    "I don't understand why Blair isn't fighting this more. Magnet is the only program of value this school has. We lose that, what have we got left? CAP? Don't make me laugh."

    ouch, spoken like a true GT kid.

    from what I hear about the magnet from friends, it sounds like a great program. and I'm sorry that some teachers are losing their jobs, and others are losing a planning period. maybe I'm missing something, but this doesn't seem like a tragedy to me. where do magnets (and us cappies, I'm not gonna lie) get this crazy feeling of entitlement? you're still going to get an excellent education, far beyond what most students have access to. and hey, remember there is more to blair than CAP and magnet. they are not the only programs of worth. I love my CAP, but without it and the magnet, blair is still a good school.

    maybe I'd feel different if it was my class being cut, but geez. some people make a budget cut sound like sacrilege. it's okay, you are smart, you'll be fine. the magnet is good, and it will still be good.
  • hyder (View Email) on April 2, 2008 at 8:51 AM
    Some of the comments that have been posted here are so bitter and biased against the magnet program. The magnet is a truly great opportunity for brilliant students to excel to their full potential. It has brought fame and renown to MBHS through its academic success. By watering down the magnet like the county has done over the past few years (creation of the poolesville magnet, dramatic reduction of operating budget, etc.), the county is effectively cutting off its nose to spite its face. While I can't see the cuts saving the county a whole lot of money, I can definitely see the cuts taking away the opportunity to excel from a number of gifted students and hurting the school's academic reputation.

    "Another Alumnus" is right. There have been articles written about the magnet in the New York Times and U.S. News and World Report because of its tremendous academic success and recognition. These proposed cuts will almost certainly decrease the quality of education available in the magnet, and in so doing, will have a devastating impact on the program, the school and the county as a whole.
  • Edmond on April 2, 2008 at 1:20 PM
    Indeed, blazer, you are correct. In fact, there was sarcasm intended in my original post, though it seems few got it.

    The truth of the matter is this: our education system is designed for the masses. It's designed to educate the masses and to contain the masses. School has two very important functions outside of educating: social conditioning and day-to-day occupation for the students. In that respect it can sometimes become closer to a daycare than a place of learning.

    To get back to the original point, the education that is available here is very good. Needless to say however, few students get the full value of it. CAP and Magnet are special programs designed to let particular students get as much as they can out of their education. When you undercut these programs, you lose that versatility to teach at a higher level. And, regrettably, our county isn't known for anything other than the magnet outside the state.

    The budget cut isn't the issue here. It's the diminishing of what once was a great program for students who went above the masses in their education.

    You have to understand that anything tailored to the general public is going to be, by its very nature, flawed for those above or below the average. The magnet, CAP, and GT level classed are designed for those above the average, and then you have programs also designed for those below. Observe, however, how the grades in the levels of classes work in a counter-intuitive way. The "easier" the class gets, the worse the grades get. This demonstrates a lack of effort as well as not comprehending subject material. And upon closer observation, this can also be attributed to the general apathy found in the lower level classes.

    To add one more thing, politicians are not going to legislate for education reform for this simple reason: It takes approximately half a decade for the results of any reform to be reaped. Most politician's terms do not last that long. Why work for something that will not help you politically, even if it is attributed to your name? You're already finished, so you get no benefit from it, unless you have children in school. And that is of course assuming they're not already getting a private education, which I won't even begin to address here.
  • Saddened on April 3, 2008 at 10:38 PM
    What are we going to do without you, Ms. Dyas?
  • Wonder ? on April 4, 2008 at 4:30 AM
    Mr. Stein, we do not want you to go.
  • Dr. Gregory House (View Email) on April 7, 2008 at 10:46 PM
    Dyas, Rogers, Witte, Bunday, Probably Bosse, maybe Miller.

    Walstein, Donaldson, Stein and Pham are most likely considering it.

    OK, let's brainstorm for a sec, who else is left?! Hmmm.. Piper, Ragan, Dvorsky, Colins, Templin, Kaluta and "Heidler." So students'll still have Computer Science and R&E. Great.

    A 20 year legacy is crumpling and not enough people are trying to fight it.

    The Magnet is what makes MCPS look good, because it REALLY DOES produce excellent students that have solid foundations for even the best universities in the world. It's not just a honors program and a bunch of 3.9 perfectionists; people really know their sh** (in and out of the classroom, on tests and in internships and competitions in all the sciences, math, and computer science)!! And if SCO wasn't so harsh on profanity, I'd have a lot more to say about Jerry Weast. Public education needs rigorous courses and programs for high-achieving students; we'd be holding back their future success and achievements otherwise. Yes, call me an elitist, and you'd be absolutely right, but that doesn't change the fact that the world will always need brilliant engineers, doctors, and researchers to make new, critical discoveries and inventions for our future.
  • Student on April 8, 2008 at 9:03 PM
    Dr. House -- you forgot Ms. Berardi, Mr. Hammond, Ms. Nawabi, Ms. O, Mr. Rose, and Mr. Schafer.
  • AnotherStudent on April 9, 2008 at 1:07 PM
    Dr. House -- Heidler is an Administrator and he does not teach; Ms. Collins will be part-time staff only.
  • Dr. Gregory House (View Email) on April 10, 2008 at 1:43 AM
    Student: Yes I do realize that I left some teachers out who are staying. I'm just giving some examples. Plus, Hammond doesn't teach, and neither does Berardi or Ms. O. Nawabi only helps out. And, Rose and Shafer are new to the magnet, which kind of defeats my point. They will no doubt replaced many other Magnet teachers that are leaving with new ones like Rose and Shafer, but can you guarantee that they'll be just as good?

    AnotherStudent: yes I realize Heidler doesn't teach. That's why I put quotes around his name---it was to make fun of his more or less useless presence in the Magnet. Steinkraus would never have gone with this whole budget cut the way Heidler does. (Anyhow, Heidler used to teach computer science. He only became coordinator at the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year)
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