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Whitman Plans New Video Conferencing

Principal Alan Goodwin begins his second year.

With one son in high school and another starting college this fall, Dr. Alan Goodwin is attuned to the issues facing high school parents.

“It helps me to understand what they’re going through,” the Walt Whitman High School principal said.

Goodwin has himself navigated the college application process, helped his children become safe beginning drivers and dealt with the ups and downs of his children’s academic and athletic careers — all of which is good practice for a principal beginning his second year at the helm of one of the county’s highest-performing schools.

At a PTSA breakfast for students the week before Montgomery County Public Schools resumed Aug. 31, Goodwin said the school is focused on maintaining its high achievement standards working through administrative changes and implementing new programs.

He’s most excited about a plan to put video teleconferencing equipment in every classroom, giving students and teachers the ability to exchange ideas with their counterparts in other parts of the world.

“Any class could use it. They could use it to have political discussions, scientific discussions, solve math programs together, share music. Its up to the creativity of the teacher,” Goodwin said.

The school has the equipment, but it has not yet been installed. Goodwin said he hopes to have the video conferencing program up and running before the end of the school year. Whitman parents are helping to identify overseas high schools interested in the exchange.

The program is part of a larger effort at the school to make students more aware of the broader significance of their studies.

“One of our goals is to help students make connections with other disciplines … or with the real world,” Goodwin said. “Why are we studying this? How is it connected with the real world?”

The school is also continuing to implement the county’s new grading and reporting policy and preparing to undergo a middle states review, an accreditation renewal process performed once every seven years that includes a self-evaluation and goal-setting.

GOODWIN SAID that he remains focused on preventing the kind of tragedies — involving alcohol, dangerous driving and drugs — that struck Winston Churchill and other high schools last year. But he stressed that there is a limit to what schools can do.

“So much of it is out of the schools’ control,” he said. “A lot of it is good fortune. We have a fairly strict zero tolerance policy and we also talk to the kids a lot about it. I talk to athletes. I go out to the teams and talk to them about trying to make good decisions.”

His message to parents: stay involved.

“There’s sometimes a dropping away of parent involvement after middle school,” he said. “We have a high degree of parent involvement. But I ask [parents] if they’re not going to be involved directly with the school to still stay involved with their children’s lives — know where they are and what they’re doing. It’s such a tempting culture, to make a lot of bad decisions.”

One other worry for Goodwin: gas prices. Though gas for school buses does not come directly out of schools’ budgets, Goodwin said that a financial squeeze for MCPS will surely trickle down.

“This gas inflation is going to affect budgets. You put a million miles on school buses, that’s going to be a tremendous [impact],” he said. “When the county starts running tight on money, in the spring money gets frozen, so we can’t buy those little things at the end.”

But that’s something that is out of Goodwin’s hands. He has more immediate concerns, with more than 1,800 students back in the building every day.

“What I’m really hoping is that when I walk around the classrooms I see teachers helping kids make connections, that the building stays up and clean, achievement stays the same,” he said. “But I’m really hoping that we get this video conferencing off the ground.”