Amprey's mission

November 19, 1991

After three and a half months on the job, Baltimore city School Supt. Walter G. Amprey has begun to get a feel for the system and what ails it, but has yet to state explicitly where he wants to take it. He concedes that "the system needs major reform," but insists that changing "attitudes" is more important than shuffling chairs on a bureaucratic organization chart.

A large, soft-spoken man whose quiet words belie an inner, almost messianic intensity, Amprey's public comments on the state of the schools so far have inspired a curious mixture of confidence and puzzlement: confidence in the sincerity of his commitment and ability to lead by sheer force of personality; puzzlement over the precise shape of the reforms he is contemplating.

In broad outline, at least, the basic elements of Amprey's approach have begun to emerge. He has presented Mayor Schmoke and the school board with four main goals, addressing student achievement, effective management, maximizing human potential and partnerships. He wants to improve the elementary school curriculum, would send principals back to school for leadership training and find more effective ways to recruit promising young teachers. He believes parents must become more involved in their children's educations and that schools must discover new ways to challenge and engage students. He accepts that all this has to be done with the money at hand, that reform cannot wait for increased funding that may or may not materialize.

Every one of these changes would represent genuine improvement. But Amprey so far has resisted attaching timetables to his goals. He is right not to expect change to occur overnight; but without benchmarks it will be difficult to gauge progress.

Amprey has said that he wants to instill a new energy and direction among school personnel to create a self-generating, snowball effect whose momentum would push the system to make a quantum leap in performance. If that sounds somewhat mystical, recall that a basically similar approach was adopted by former Mayor Schaefer in nudging the downtown renaissance into reality. It could happen again for schools if Amprey's determination and abilities are indeed up to the task he has set himself.

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