New CCB Teaches Itself Some Brand-New Tricks

TIM BAKER

November 25, 1991|By TIM BAKER

The New Community College of Baltimore has achieved a remarkable institutional feat. It has transformed itself.

Only two years ago the old CCB ranked as the worst community college in the state. It sat at the bottom on every measure by which Maryland evaluates its 17 two-year campuses.

The school suffered under poor management and uninspired leadership. The administration couldn't remove bad teachers or eliminate obsolete courses because of rigid restrictions in its collective bargaining agreement. Administrators and union officials endlessly feuded with each other, even over minor issues. The school expected little from either its students or its teachers. The institutional culture accepted failure and condoned incompetence.

Dispirited students went elsewhere or altogether abandoned their aspirations for more education. Between 1979 and 1989, enrollments dropped from 9,000 to 4,500 while the state-wide community college population went up by 25 percent.

Meanwhile, the business community had lost all confidence in the old CCB and ignored it as a irrelevant to the region's growing needs for a technologically trained work force. In 1988, SRI International evaluated higher education in Baltimore and virtually recommended that the Greater Baltimore Committee give up on the school and begin to develop alternatives.

Then in 1989, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the General Assembly agreed to a state takeover. The state secretary of higher education, Shaila R. Aery, shrewdly structured the deal to make dramatic change possible.

First, the takeover gave the governor the power to put in new leadership. He appointed a new and energetic board and a new interim president, James M. Tschechtelin, who had headed the state board for community colleges.

Second, under state law the takeover automatically voided the collective bargaining agreement and eliminated the union's power to block innovation. Third, the authorizing legislation made the New CCB a successor institution, rather than a simple reincarnation of the old school. The switch eliminated faculty tenure.

Finally, the new structure replaced guaranteed lifetime job security with a system of rolling three-year teacher contracts. Under this program the school evaluates faculty members annually. A satisfactory rating extends a teacher's contract for an additional year. An unsatisfactory rating results in probation. Incompetent teachers are fired.

This new system has injected into CCB's culture a revolutionary educational concept -- accountability. President Tschechtelin has enforced it rigorously. He has already terminated seven of the school's 96 teachers, as well as 14 administrators and three other employees.

Another new concept drives the evaluation process -- student success. The school measures teacher performance by looking at student progress. Clear new goals govern. The New CCB expects students to complete its programs and to build the educational foundations they will need for careers in a technological economy. It expects them to graduate and to find good jobs. It expects its best students to transfer to four-year academic institutions.

With the new board's full support, President Tschechtelin has relentlessly pushed those high expectations and demanding standards onto the institution. At first the faculty responded hostilely to the loss of tenure, the poor evaluations and the dismissals. But the teachers have now accepted the new order with increasing enthusiasm.

Indeed, the school radiates a new vision and a new spirit. Project Success teaches entering students the skills and work habits they'll need to succeed in their classes. The administration has eliminated deadening courses in obsolete subjects. It has enhanced programs in promising careers such as nursing, electronics, computer information systems and legal assistants. The state has rewarded it with a new $250,000 math lab.

A ''TransCentury Plan'' will guide the institution toward the year 2000. A new Life Sciences Institute will prepare students for careers as technicians in health care, biotechnology and related fields. The institute forms a part of the New CCB's strategy to develop a pipeline into the Baltimore City public schools. Its ''Tech Prep'' program will encourage 11th- and 12th-grade students to plan for technical career training at CCB by taking the prerequisite courses in high school. In a new partnership with the city, the school has enrolled 67 Project Independence welfare-to-work students.

President Tschechtelin has also reached out to the business community. For example, he has persuaded U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Corp. to hire the New CCB to run an in-house continuing education program for its employees. Other programs are in the works. The Greater Baltimore Committee is thrilled.

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