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Paying for College in Cecil County

An Ode to High School Guidance Counselors

During the public comment portion of one of last year’s Cecil County Public Schools Board of Education budget meetings, a citizen remarked  “…the board often talks about preparing students for college but rarely talks about preparing students to pay for college…” His comment was later reported in the Cecil Whig.

While I haven’t heard much discussion about financial aid for college at the board of education meetings I’ve attended in the last few years, that doesn’t mean county high school students and families don’t receive information and support on the college application process or financial aid opportunities. In fact, our older son graduated from Perryville High School 2015 and the guidance office couldn’t have done more to help students find scholarship money.

Introduction to the College Application Process

In the first semester of his junior year, the guidance office held parent meetings about the college application process. My son’s guidance counselor told us about online resources to research colleges and scholarships and gave us a timeline for applying. He encouraged students to start drafting essays, participating in extra curricular activities, and performing community service to make themselves more attractive to colleges. He even added tips like asking teachers for recommendations at the end of junior year so they could write the letters during the summer break. He also explained that the PHS guidance office kept a file of scholarship applications that was updated frequently and encouraged students to check it regularly.

Financial Aid Workshop

In the first semester of his senior year, the guidance counselor held a parent meeting specifically about financial aid. A representative from the financial aid office of Cecil College explained the importance of the FAFSA application and the process for completing it in order to meet state deadlines. Parents were provided with a booklet of scholarships compiled by the guidance departments of the county high schools. Inside this handy booklet scholarships were categorized in several ways including:

  • Academic area of study (education, STEM, nursing, etc.)
  • Extra curricular activity (both community service and sport specific)
  • High school

The booklets were also given to seniors with their 1st marketing period report card.

College Fairs

Each fall CCPS organizes a college fair that is hosted at one of our high schools. Here’s a promotion I received about the 2014 fair:

“I’d like to remind everyone that the 2014 CCPS College and Career Fair will be held at Elkton High School this upcoming Wednesday, October 1st from 6 PM until 8 PM. There will be over 70 colleges, universities, technical schools, and armed forces recruiters available to speak with students and families.

There will also be four presentations available with very important information. The topics of these presentations are:

  • Junior Year Timeline (not applicable to seniors)
  • The College Application Process
  • NCAA Athletics
  • Financial Aid

The format of the fair allows everyone to be able to attend two of these four workshops, which is a great way to learn about the various topics and prepare yourselves for the upcoming months.”

I ran across the promotional email for the 2013 college fair and the line up was very similar. I believe the 2015 College Fair was held at Rising Sun High School.

Scholarship Nights & Emailed Updates

At the individual school level, PHS held a scholarship night in the spring of 2015 to match students with other available local scholarships. And we received countless email messages from his guidance counselor as scholarship opportunities arose during the year–a quick search of my email box lists 56 messages from that year and I know deleted some.

I’m sure the guidance office provided other support that I wasn’t even aware of.

Can’t Beat the Value of a Community College Education

While some families may only consider four year colleges, Cecil College is an affordable local option and CCPS works closely with the college to help students make that transition. Last year, they even administered the college placement tests at PHS.

LIke any college, Cecil College has an active financial aid office to help students in need. It also has its own foundation that provides scholarships to students for academic merit.  Here are articles from the Cecil Whig about the 2015 and 2016 scholarships.

Additionally, CCPS adopted a policy to allow students to receive high school credit for courses taken at Cecil College. In the fall semester of this school year, a professor from Cecil College came to Perryville High School each week to teach Psychology 101. Taking college classes at your local high school (and I think for a reduced tuition)?! Yes, please, we need more of this!

I’ll admit that I am partial to community college education since I received my associate’s degree from Harford Community College over 20 years ago and went on to get my bachelor’s degree from the University of Baltimore. (If you are in Harford County, be sure to check out the Alfred O’Connell Scholarship program at HCC.)

Because I had such a positive experience at Harford Community, we planned for our sons to start their college careers at Cecil College. Our older son is in his second year at Cecil and we couldn’t be happier with his experience there.

Paying for college in Cecil County is a challenge, just like anywhere else, but to say CCPS doesn’t help students find financial aid is nowhere near accurate. I encourage you to talk with your child’s guidance counselor to learn about the many resources available.

 

Cecil County Budget Process

New Year, New Cecil County Budget Season

As we countdown the final hours of 2015 and tack-up new calendars for 2016, many are busy planning budgets for the 2017 fiscal year.

I know–you can barely contain your excitement for this event. You’re anticipating the months-long process like it’s Christmas, your birthday, and a visit from the tooth fairy all in one! Ok, well, maybe it’s more like a trip to the dentist–for a root canal.

Either way, the Cecil County budget awaits and it must be planned, debated, argued, and approved.

I started blogging about budgets almost two years ago because our schools were having to beg, plead, and grovel for funding. Our students and, by extension, our communities were suffering.

You wanted parents to get involved–here we are!

Last year’s budget season went differently. Education supporters packed meetings and flooded the email boxes of Cecil County officials, contributing to the Cecil County Council’s decision to make very few changes to the school system’s budget. The schools finally received funding to start healing some of the damage caused by 7 years of reduced funding.

Alas, this year will be different

They say “Two steps forward, one step back,” and that will most likely be the case with this budget season. County Executive Tari Moore’s decision to not seek re-election will undoubtedly factor into the budget negotiations this year. Last year, she courageously presented a budget to the county council that included increased funding for education and an actual plan for making needed capital improvements.

With the added drama of a primary election for county executive in April, those of us who support adequate public education funding must continue to make our voices heard.

The Budget Process

  • The Board of Education will spend the month of January preparing a budget that will be submitted to Cecil County Executive Tari Moore in mid-February.
  • At the end of March, the County Executive submits a proposed countywide budget to the County Council.
  • During April and May, the Board of Education will make a budget presentation to the Cecil County Council and a public hearing will be held with everything culminating in a County Council vote on the budget at the beginning of June.

Actions You Can Take to Support Education Funding

To make it easier, you can just copy these email addresses and paste them into an email: tmoore@ccgov.org, amccarthy@ccgov.org, jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, rhodge@ccgov.org

County Executive Tari Moore
County Council Alan McCarthy District 1
Joyce Bowlsbey District 2
Dan Schneckenburger District 3
George Patchell District 4
Robert Hodge District 5

 

 

Cecil Couny School of Technology

New School of Technology Opens Opportunities for Cecil Students

If you’ve followed Cecil County news for any amount of time, you’ve surely read a few stories about the new Cecil County School of Technology. For a while, many of those stories were about the contentious debate over purchasing the former Bassell property on Appleton Rd. in Elkton. As the renovation project neared completion, the storylines were about the final students attending the old North East location or anticipating the arrival of the new school’s first students in August. In the last few weeks, we’ve read about the ribbon cutting celebrating the official opening of the school and the open house for county sophomores considering technology education for their junior year.

New School of Technology was a Long Time Coming

The story of the School of Technology began more than a decade ago when Cecil County Public Schools identified the need to replace the building housing its technology education programs. Initially planned as a “comprehensive high school” where students would spend their whole day, the project was eventually scaled back to the format Cecil County has been using where students start their days at their home school for a few classes like English and are then bused to the technical school for the rest of their classes.

Once the property purchase was final and the county’s commitment to fund the project was secured in 2013, renovations moved quickly. Despite what others may say loudly and repeatedly, CCPS continues to be resourceful and demonstrated exceptional “out of the box” thinking on this project as they envisioned a building that once housed laboratories being fitted out for technical education. By re-purposing an existing building and using as much of its existing infrastructure a possible, they completed the project at a cost of $68 per square foot. To put that into perspective, the Dorchester County Career and Technology Center cost $247 per square foot when it was built in 2008.

More Space=More Students Served

The new School of Technology facility will allow enrollment to swell to twice its current size when the new class arrives on campus this winter. Those arriving students will have the opportunity to participate in new programs like interactive media productions, criminal justice and homeland security, and computer networking and other new programs are planned for future expansion.

For more information about the Cecil County School of Technology, visit their website.

Related Stories

The dawn of vocational education in Cecil County

Tech school program for at-risk students shows early progress

 

Parents Guide to High School Sports

Welcome to High School Sports: A Guide for Parents

Updated 7/22/2018

Welcome to high school sports! It will be exciting, hectic, frustrating, and hopefully fun for athletes and their families but it can also feel like a whole new world.

After four years of high school sports, I’ve learned that, at least in our family, teenagers aren’t great at getting information from their coaches to their parents. If this is your first year of high school sports, you may feel bewildered by the whole process while other families seem to already be familiar with the program. Here are a few tips to help the sports seasons run smoother for you:

Paperwork!

Students are not permitted to practice without the required paperwork which includes a physical. Please check with your student’s school to determine exactly what is necessary and plan accordingly. Here’s a link to the Cecil County Public Schools Athletics page where you can find the latest forms required for participation.

Bookmark countysportszone.com

Your son or daughter most likely won’t come home with a printed schedule but all sports schedules are posted on Countysportzone.com. You’ll want to bookmark that site on your computer or phone because you will be referring to it often. Sometimes postponements due to weather or changes to the schedule are posted here before the players are even notified. If you are leaving work on a rainy day to head to a soccer game, check countysportszone.com before leaving work.

Carpooling is a necessity

Some times your son or daughter will need to be at school at unusual times. This is especially true during fall pre-season practices before school starts when practice may start at 9 AM and end at noon or for winter sports when multiple teams are sharing the limited indoor facilities. Transportation at these times may be difficult for some families to accommodate. Fortunately, other families are often willing to take a friend or neighbor to or from practice. Remember–it takes a village to raise a sports team so please help teammates get where they need to be when you can.

Learn about practice and school attendance rules

Student athletes must participate in 10 practices before being considered eligible to participate in a game. Keep this in mind when scheduling summer vacations because practices start mid-August, before the school year begins.

Additionally, students must meet the county’s full day attendance policy in order to participate in practices and games. There are any number of reasons for a student to miss part of a school day, however, you should be aware of the policy in advance. Here’s a link to the CCPS attendance policy.

Write in pencil

I hope you like spontaneity! If you keep a paper calendar, be sure to write games in pencil because there will be changes.

Playoffs extend past the currently posted schedule

If your athlete is on a varsity team, they may play in playoffs at the end of the season. The dates for the games are posted on the MPSSAA website but we won’t know the details until the draw that happens after all regular season games have been played. Keep this in mind if you schedule any vacations during the school year. Here’s a link to the MPSSAA calendar page which also includes a long range calendar of major events for the next 5 years or so.

Give your athlete a zipper bag and large trash bag

Teams will usually play or practice regardless of the weather. Depending on the situation, they may end up playing in the rain and there may not be anywhere to store their bags. A gallon-size zipper bag is great for cell phones, wallets, and other valuables and the large trash bag is big enough to hold their backpacks and duffel bags. These two bags don’t take up much space and you’re better safe than sorry.

Find another parent

Coaches communicate with parents to different degrees; some are great at sharing schedule updates or feedback after the games via email or Facebook groups but this isn’t always the case. If the coach is a teacher, he or she may only be able to access email during their planning period or lunch. There may not be “team moms or dads” but there are always a few parents who are plugged in to the details. If your athlete is new to the team, find one of these parents and exchange cell phone numbers. You never know when you might need to get information from an adult. If you are a parent who knows the ropes of high schools sports, please befriend the new parents on the sideline.

Make sure your student-athlete is doing the student part

The school system has eligibility requirements but some teams may have eligibility requirements that are more strict than those of the school system. An athlete is of no use to the team if they are ineligible for practice or games. Eligibility for the beginning of the fall season is determined by the grades at the end of the school year so if your son or daughter plays a fall sport, remind them that allowing “spring fever” to impact their school work will make them ineligible to play in the fall. Here’s a link to the CCPS Interscholastic Athletics Regulations and Procedures 

Bring a chair

Depending on the sport, you may need to bring your own chair to games. In Cecil County, there is little to no seating for fans on the sidelines of games outside of football. It’s easier to keep a lawn chair in your car all season then to stand for a whole game.

Games will start on time (and some times a little earlier)

If you show up at the field right at game time, you may miss the first few minutes of play. This is especially true if teams are trying to get a game in with bad weather on the way.

Honor the game

We all want our athletes to succeed but the games doesn’t always go our way. Players, coaches, and officials are human and will make mistakes. Please do your best to honor the game and respect the participants. No one wants to sit on the sideline and hear others criticize the game on the field. Please. Don’t. Be. That. Person. Here are some tips from the Positive Coaching Alliance

Plan for driver’s education

Learning to drive and getting a driver’s license are two of the most stressful and memorable milestones for both teenagers and parents. In preparation for that first license, the state of Maryland requires driver education training that includes 30 hours of classroom training and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel training. Trying to fit those classes around already packed school, sports, and family schedules can feel like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube (something I never bothered to master).

It couldn’t be farther from your mind as they are facing their first day as a freshman in high school but it will sneak up on you. If at all possible, have a solid plan for getting that training well before it’s required. Teenagers can’t get a learner’s permit until they are 15 years and 9 months old but they can take the classroom training before they have their permits.

To avoid missing practices or games for driver’s ed, our older son took driver’s ed over several consecutive weekends one winter when he wasn’t playing a sport and our younger son took it during summer vacation before his junior year.

End of season celebrations vary by team

Each team celebrates the end of the season in a different way. Some organize potluck dinners at school, others meet off-site. The events may include player recognitions and often include the distribution of gifts to departing seniors and coaches. Often arranged by team captains or parents, players may be asked to contribute towards those gifts.

What other tips have you learned?

CCPS awarded for financial reporting

CCPS recognized for excellence in financial reporting and governmental budgeting

How many of us think about the engines under the hoods of the cars we drive every day? Sure, there are gearheads and enthusiasts who are fascinated with the mechanical details and specifications but I would bet most of us don’t give much thought about these machines we rely on to get us where we’re going. If things are going well, our engines keep us moving with little effort on our part. Today’s engines can alert you to tend to routine maintenance or give you a heads up that something is about to go desperately, expensively wrong; heck, the engine in my car tells me when I’m not driving as efficiently as I could be!

In business and industry, you might consider the accounting, budgeting, financial reporting, and purchasing functions (“business services”) to be the engine that keeps the organization moving forward and on track. And, like our trusty “rides,” these employees keep the business of the business running smoothly day in and day out with little thought from those of us outside the department. But the deliverables from these departments are criticial to the efficient function of the organization. Their annual  budgets set the course for the year and their financial reports serve as the monthly and yearly analysis of the organization’s performance against  those budgets.

The same holds true in a school system.

When we talk about schools, we naturally think of the students and teachers but there are whole teams of people who support the work in the classroom. At Cecil County Public Schools, one of those teams is the business services department. And, again this year,  the work of this team has been recognized for excellence  in financial reporting and governmental budgeting.

For the 12th consecutive year, the CCPS business services department has achieved the Government Finance Officers Association’s (GFOA) Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting and the Association of School Business Officials’ (ASBO) Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting. This year’s recognition was for the CCPS Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014. In order to be awarded a Certificate of Excellence from these two organizations, a school system must publish an easily readable and efficiently organized Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). The report must satisfy both generally accepted accounting principles and applicable legal requirements and the individual program standards.

For the 4th consecutive year, the CCPS business services department has earned the GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and the ASBO Meritorious Budget Award. This recognition was for the 2014-2015 budget. In order to receive these awards, a school system must publish a budget document that meets program criteria as a policy document, as an operations guide, as a financial plan, and as a communications tool.

Commentary

I’ve spent a lot of “quality time” with the financial reports the business service department publishes and refer to them often when writing. If you are interested in the performance of the school system and its plans for the future, the documents on the Budget page of the CCPS website are a great place to start. And during the fiscal year, you can check the board of education section of the website for monthly financial reports.

Congratulations to the CCPS business services team for continuing the school system’s tradition of fiscal transparency.

Greeting to Our Cecil County Council

Greetings to Our Cecil County Council!

5/31/15: Read the latest on the budget crisis in Cecil County

On the eve of the Cecil County Council’s final deliberations on the FY 2016 budget, some of the council members appear to be wavering on their support of the education budget.

I’d like to suggest that we each take a few minutes this evening or early tomorrow morning to send one last email to the council and administration reiterating our support for the school budget.

Let’s fill their email boxes with greetings from the citizens of the county!

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or concerned citizen, your voice needs to be heard.

Here’s an email you can cut and paste:

I am a resident of [insert town name here] and I support adequate funding of our public schools. (If you have a child or children in school,  include this line–My child/children attend [insert school(s) name(s) here])

As you make final deliberations on the FY 2016 budget, I encourage you to approve the CCPS budget as proposed.

It is time that Cecil County does the right thing for the current and future students of Cecil County Public Schools, the system’s employees, and the families who support them.

Respectfully,

[your name]

Send to these email addresses:  tmoore@ccgov.org, amccarthy@ccgov.org, jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, rhodge@ccgov.org, awein@ccgov.org, cwhiteford@ccgov.org, wrobinson@ccgov.org

Cecil County Graduation Rates

Throwing money at education doesn’t fix the problem

How many times have we heard someone use those words to argue against adequately funding education?

This doesn’t happen just in Cecil County or only in Maryland. This rant gets repeated across the country and online ad nauseum as if repetition and volume makes it true.

But who said public education in Cecil County was broken? Has someone showed data that points to glaring failures of the system?

Nope.

In fact, the data shows that education in Cecil County is clearly working.

During these last 5 years of nearly flat spending on education in Cecil County, Cecil County Public Schools managed to increase graduation rates while also reducing dropout rates. Did this happen by chance? No. This happened because CCPS developed metrics for measuring student success and processes for assisting students who need more support. In fact, the county developed a system of using academic profiles to identify students at risk that has been so successful that the model has been shared with other districts in the state.

Now, despite what you may have heard about the huge numbers of administrators at CCPS headquarters on Booth Street, these systems were implemented at a time when the system was forced to cut non-instructional positions due to inadequate funding. For the sake of the students, CCPS had little choice but to buckle down and do the work which they did and continue to do.

So, is throwing money at education going to fix the problem? That depends on how you define the problem.

If you define the problem as one of a system that has used its resources in the most efficient manner possible but is stretched too thin, yes, increased funding will fix the problem.

If you define the problem as a system whosefacilities are in dire need of replacement or repair, yes, increased funding will fix the problem.

Cecil County–it’s time for you to adequately and consistently fund public education in order to fix the problems you’ve caused in our schools.

The Cecil County Council will vote on the budget for FY 2016 on June 2. Please email them today to tell them that you support education funding. Not sure what to say? Here’s a letter to copy and send.

Copy and paste these email addresses:  tmoore@ccgov.org, amccarthy@ccgov.org, jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, rhodge@ccgov.org, awein@ccgov.org, cwhiteford@ccgov.org, wrobinson@ccgov.org

Sources:

Maryland Report Card-Cecil County

Cecil County Dropout Rates

Cecil County Budget Vote June 2

Cecil County Budget Vote June 2

Time is running out!

On June 2, the Cecil County Council will vote on the FY 2016 budget. If you haven’t contacted the council members yet to ask them to support adequate funding of public education, please do so now.

If you aren’t sure what to say, here’s an email you can copy and paste.

Or you can borrow something from the the letter I sent to the editor of the Cecil Whig (below):

Letter to the Editor: Originally posted on 4/8/15

Moore’s budget bucks status quo

Last month, Cecil County Executive Tari Moore presented a budget for fiscal year 2016 that blazes a trail for a new era for Cecil County.

She stood up to the status quo that has contributed to the economic and social issues that have dogged our county and recognized that fiscal restraint had become a barrier to prosperity and growth.

A key part of her proposed budget was the recognition that strong schools with adequate plans for consistent, long-term funding are critical to a thriving economy. This is a significant development because in recent years funding for public education has been a favorite target for county officials and outspoken interest groups.

At recent public forums, we’ve heard local businesses explain how they rely on the schools to supply a steady workforce of educated employees and consider the school system to be a critical factor for new employees they recruit from outside the county. At other times, economists have explained the considerable returns seen in the county’s economy from its investment in public education. And it’s an established fact that school quality greatly influences the home-buying decision and contributes to higher resale values.

Despite mountains of data that public education drives local economic activity, there are still groups pushing against adequate funding.

The Cecil County Council will host a public hearing on the topic on May 12 at 7 p.m. at Elkton High School. If you support public education, please attend the hearing or contact the council in advance of their budget vote on June 2.

Letter to Editor Cecil Whig

Hurdles to approve education budget in Cecil County

Education allies: Our work isn’t done

When Cecil County Executive Tari Moore announced her proposed budget for FY 2016, we cleared the first hurdle in the race to secure adequate funding for public education in the next fiscal year and beyond.

But the race is far from won and our work is not done.

Now the budget is in the hands of the Cecil County Council

The county council is currently holding meetings with the different agencies in the county to learn more about their plans and budgetary needs for the coming year. After those meetings, the council will hold a public hearing on the budget on May 12 before voting on the budget at the June 2 meeting. link to the budget hearing schedule

Based on the county charter, the county council can not add to the budget proposed by Ms. Moore but it can cut the budget.

Our next task: same as the last–keep up the pressure & keep telling our story

Between today and the June 2 vote, we need to continue to remind the members of the county council about the positive results our schools have produced as well as the many needs of the system. We need to impress upon them that we will continue to fight for appropriate funding for education once the budget for FY 2016 is approved.

And we, as a group, need to remain just as persistent and active as those who spend most of the year railing against our schools without ever educating themselves on the topic. While they continue to rant about the makes of the cars people drive or the “bloat” that they cry about but never identify, or parrot rhetoric from organizations outside our county, we need to continue to tell the story of the positive influences the schools have been in our communities and families.

Every voice counts!

We may not all be public speakers or able to attend county council meetings but we can each contribute to the cause by contacting our elected officials, writing letters to the local newspapers, or finding some other way to tell our story.

Here’s a letter you can use:

Send to these email addresses:  tmoore@ccgov.org, amccarthy@ccgov.org, jbowlsbey@ccgov.org, dschneckenburger@ccgov.org, gpatchell@ccgov.org, rhodge@ccgov.org, awein@ccgov.org, cwhiteford@ccgov.org, wrobinson@ccgov.org

Subject: I support the CCPS budget

As you consider the Cecil County budget for FY 2016, I encourage you to show the same courage and vision County Executive Tari Moore exhibited when she presented the proposed budget.

Our county is suffering because we have been willing to accept the status quo for too long. Fiscal restraint has become a barrier to growth and prosperity and the current situation is not sustainable.

When the economy crashed a few years ago, Cecil County Public Schools took several for the team. They cut staff and found ways to save money like installing a solar field and pilot testing 4 day work weeks during summer months in order to save on energy costs. Now it is time to work in cooperation with the school system to build a reasonable plan for meeting the needs of our schools and addressing their aging facilities.

Please approve the education budget as proposed.

Respectfully,

[your name]

Letter to Cecil County Council

Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed under CC BY 3.0
letter to Tari Moore

Letter to Cecil County Executive Tari Moore

Sent to Cecil County Executive Tari Moore this morning in response to her proposed budget for FY 2016:

Thank you.

Thank you for having the courage to stand up against the status quo in Cecil County in order to do the right thing for the current and future students of Cecil County Public Schools, the system’s employees, and the families who support them.

For too long, the status quo could be better described as status no.

Thank you for pushing your team to find compromises that can begin to heal the damage inflicted on our school system and, consequently, the county at large and for having the courage to commit to a formal plan for addressing our aging school facilities.

Thank you for demonstrating that being a public servant is about serving all of the public.

A link to the FY 2016 Proposed Budget in Brief