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(Enlarge) Students demonstrate outside Aberdeen High School in support of their principal who is being removed by the school superintendent at the end of this school year. (Kirsten Dize | The Record)

Poor overall school performance is one reason two veteran Harford County high school principals won’t be back, people close to the school system say.

And by some measures used by the state to judge a secondary school’s overall performance, the high schools in Aberdeen and Joppatowne need improvement, though in Aberdeen’s case there have been a number of positive trends.

The impending reassignment of the two high schools’ principals following the end of this school year has upset some people in the communities served by the two schools.

Students and parents alike have been protesting actions by the county school superintendent which will amount to removing Aberdeen High School’s principal.

Though not much has been heard from the Joppatowne community, their high school’s principal, who has worked for the school system for 38 years, will be leaving as well.

Prior to spring break, Superintendent Robert Tomback sat down with Aberdeen Principal Tom Szerensits and Joppatowne High School Principal Macon Tucker and told them they had to either retire, accept a reassignment amounting to a demotion or face being fired.

The Aberdeen community is in an uproar about the decision, praising Szerensits’ impact on the school despite the low performance data.

Several sources close to the school system said both principals are losing their current positions because Tomback isn’t happy with their schools’ performance, including their graduation rates, dropout rates and test scores.

Graduation rates

Compared to other Harford County high schools, both Aberdeen and Joppatowne have low graduation rates, at 86.36 and 73.3 percent, respectively, according to the 2010 Maryland Report Card, a school-by-school statistical abstract published online by the Maryland Department of Education.

In Aberdeen’s case, however, its latest graduation rate is the highest the school has had since Szerensits became principal before the 2002-03 school year.

In 2003, the AHS graduation rate was 72.06 percent and though it has stayed between 75 and 82 percent since, the trend shows increasing rates over Szerensits’ tenure.

The same cannot be said of Joppatowne High School’s graduation rate, which has recently decreased to a level below where it was when Tucker became principal in the 2001-02 school year.

In 2002, Joppatowne’s graduation rate was 79.17 percent. Since then, the school’s rates had increased, fluctuating between 78 and 85 percent, until the past year when it dropped to 73.3 percent — 162 graduates from a class of 221, according to state figures.

Joppatowne did not meet the 2010 adequate yearly progress, or AYP, graduation rate goal set for the school by the state.

Although Joppatowne’s rate is the lowest in the county, Edgewood High School has a lower rate than Aberdeen, at 77.6 percent for 2010, according to the Maryland Report Card.    

Aside from Havre de Grace High School, with a graduation rate of 83.08 percent, other schools in the county have graduation rates above 90 percent.

The Maryland state graduation rate is 86.53 percent, with Harford County’s at 88.38 percent, according to the state figures. Harford’s overall rate for 2010 was the second best for the county since the federal No Child Left Behind Act took effect in 2004.

Dropout rates

Edgewood, Joppatowne and Aberdeen had the highest dropout rates in Harford County in 2010.

Joppatowne’s dropout rate was 4.14 percent, followed by 3.43 percent at Edgewood and Aberdeen with 2.83 percent.

Excluding North Harford High School, with a dropout rate of 2.01 percent in 2010, and Havre de Grace High School, with 1.24 percent, the five remaining Harford public high schools had rates of less than 1 percent.

Both Joppatowne and Edgewood’s drop out rates are below the state’s considered satisfactory level of 3 percent or less. The state itself barely meets that standard, with a dropout rate of 2.54 percent while Harford’s overall dropout rate is 2.13 percent.

Although they seem fairly high compared to the rest of the county, the dropout rates at Aberdeen High School have improved since Szerensits took over. In 2003, the school’s rate was 4.28 and since then it has wavered between 3.85 to 4.61 percent, except in 2009 when it fell to 2.45 percent before rising slightly in 2010.

Joppatowne’s dropout rates have stayed pretty steady since 2002, starting at 3.49 percent that year and fluctuating between 3.21 to 5.21 percent throughout Tucker’s tenure. The 2010 rate of 4.14 percent, however, increased from 3.79 percent in 2009.

HSA results

Maryland High School Assessment Test results for 12th-graders are similar for the majority of Harford’s high schools, except at Aberdeen and Joppatowne.

According to state figures, 100 percent of all 12th-grade students at the other eight public high schools in the county took all four required HSA tests and met the Maryland requirement to graduate in 2010.

This group of schools includes C. Milton Wright, Bel Air, Fallston, Harford Technical, North Harford, Patterson Mill, Edgewood and Havre de Grace high schools.

These testing results include students who met the requirement through what is known as the Bridge Plan, which allows students who have passed an HSA course, but who have failed the test two or more times, to submit alternative projects for credit. These students also have to show satisfactory attendance and graduation progress before meeting with teachers to discuss possible projects.

The HSA tests also allow some students to meet the requirement by waiver.

Including students who met the requirements through Bridge or waiver, Aberdeen’s HSA status for 12th grade was 98.8 percent in 2010, while Joppatowne’s was 96.9 percent.
The state’s overall grade 12 HSA status for 2010 was 99.9 percent, with Harford County’s at 99.7 percent.

Supporting Szerensits

Students and parents at Aberdeen High School who support their principal, say the school has made progress under Szerensits’ leadership, and the statistics tend to bear that out somewhat.

The supporters have started an online petition to further their cause on the Save Szerensits Facebook page they started.

Eleven people spoke in favor of him at the school board meeting on May 9, praising his ability to work with all kids and know each student in the school. Aside from thanking the speakers, board members did not comment on the situation.

Tomback has refused to discuss the fate of the two principals publicly. His spokesperson, Teri Kranefeld, said last week that transfers, appointments and reassignments in the school system will occur over the summer.

Neither Szerensits nor Tucker has commented about their future.

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