Announcing his retirement from the city school system the other day, Boyse F. Mosley, the controversial principal of Northwestern High School, declared that "public education, as we know it, is dead."
He told a reporter that he had "lost faith" in Baltimore schools. He also declared that "we can no longer fix" the system.
Mr. Mosley's comments ought not go unchallenged, although no doubt they've already reinforced the opinion of many that the city system is an unrelieved barren wasteland much like that described by the Northwestern principal himself in his parting remarks. (But not imminently parting. Mr. Mosley, 58, will not retire until June, which means he will preside over the Northwestern arm of the dead body for another seven months.)
Mr. Mosley has been at it in the city for 28 years, and through most of that time he has been lionized by the press. It was we who attached that word "controversial" -- sometimes we said "outspoken," sometimes "best-known," sometimes "flamboyant" -- to him at every first reference. He was always good for a quote, especially after he became locally famous for his work as a right-wing radio talk-show commentator and star of a weekly television shouting match. Mr. Mosley comes from the school of strict discipline made famous in recent years by Joe Clark, the New Jersey principal who enforced rules in his school with a baseball bat. (Mr. Clark, too, was a media darling, having been adopted as a model by former Secretary of Education William Bennett.)
Through the years, Mr. Mosley criticized his bosses in public -- and got away with it. Most recently, he said Mayor Schmoke should have fired Superintendent Richard Hunter. "You've got Dr. Hunter making all this money," Mr. Mosley declared, "and he's just a public relations man. Isn't that essentially what he does? I was hoping he'd call up each of the principals and say to us, 'Let's look at your program.' "
Well, that is apparently what Walter G. Amprey, the new superintendent who has been calling principals into his office one by one, did on the day before Mr. Mosley announced his "voluntary" retirement.
What Dr. Amprey found was that Mr. Mosley's school has one of the worst records in the city -- and there are schools with worse "socio-economic profiles." In fact, Northwestern failed miserably on the second annual state "report card." As Mr. Mosley himself pointed out, "We're not doing much." The school failed to make the grade in all 13 state categories and listed 59.2 percent of its student body chronically absent last year.
Mr. Mosley said this was in spite of his best efforts. "I'm tired of their [students'] foul language and abuse," he said. "I'm tired of driving through the neighborhood looking for them. I'm tired of going to Reisterstown Road Plaza and dragging them back to school."
Other principals and administrators in the city system are tired, too, but they keep at it without the publicity attending the Northwestern principal. Few of them have report card "grades" that are worth crowing about. None would say that city schools are near recovery from years of decline. But many run schools that are under control, schools where students are clearly learning, where teachers are excited about what they're doing and where parents and community leaders are involved. Insiders say that none of these is a characteristic of Northwestern, nor was it of Lake Clifton, the previous high school where Mr. Mosley presided.
City principals are a home-grown crop. Most of them have worked their way through the system, rising from teacher to assistant principal to principal. They've endured a good deal, including numerous changes at the top (eight superintendents since 1960), numerous central office reorganizations, enough educational programs (most dictated from the central office with little or no staff training to put them into effect) to give anyone a headache and the gradual deterioration of discipline among students. Only last year did elementary principals get half-time assistants; until then they were school chief, nurse, counselor and principal rolled into one.
By and large, they are savvy. They know that principals not only rule their schools but their neighborhoods, even their communities. "Every day effective principals are outside with their children," says Sheila Kolman, principal of West Baltimore Middle School and president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, the principals' union. "If a problem occurs on a school bus or in the neighborhood after school, it's exactly as if it happened inside the school."