English teacher Nina Parish remembers the seventh-grade student who missed 144 days of school last year from Baltimore's Canton Middle School, and gave teachers every indication that this year would be no different.
The student had no interest in any aspect of school and received little urging from his parents to attend classes regularly, said Ms. Parish. "He was a definite at-risk student," she said.
This year, the youth became involved in a program in which he is allowed to miss school one day a week to go to a paid job while attending classes the other four. The student has missed 13 school days, but it is an improvement.
The program exists because Canton Middle School was designated a Charter School. At such schools, increased involvement of parents, the community and area businesses is aimed at finding ways to help the students succeed in school.
Canton Middle is one of 101 schools statewide that educators hope will benefit from being designated Charter Schools. The others in Baltimore are Southwestern High School and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School.
Last night, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, state Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick and city School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey met with teachers, parents and community members at Canton Middle to promote the concept of Charter Schools.
Schools selected as Charter Schools must already have a concentrated effort to get the community involved in school activities, have strong leaders within the school to work on community involvement and have recognized several challenges within the school that need work.
Those challenges, officials said, may vary from poor attendance rates to low scores on standardized tests. Each Charter School is scheduled to hold a town meeting before Feb. 24.
"Parents, teachers and the community all have to work together for one common goal," Governor Schaefer said. He noted that staying in school is even more important as the job market becomes more competitive, saying that "every young person is competing with kids in Japan and Germany."
The Charter School program is part of the Maryland 2000 School Improvement effort. This state initiative is similar to the "America 2000" initiative announced by President Bush in April. Both initiatives are based on the theory that school improvement requires the collaborative efforts of schools, parents, communities and businesses, education officials said.
Craig E. Spilman, principal at Canton Middle School, said he was pleased that his school was chosen a Charter School and hopes the school garners more parent, community and business support.
At Canton, 71 percent of the students are "at risk," Mr. Spilman said. The school, where the enrollment is an ethnic and racial mix, has an attendance rate of slightly below 80 percent for last year. Students there did poorly in the reading, writing and mathematics achievement tests for the 1990-91 school year.
"This [being a Charter School] gives us some leverage to renew our efforts to perhaps get more involvement from business," Mr. Spilman said.
Mrs. Grasmick said the program asks area businesses to employ students, but that's not all she wants from employers.
"We want them to come in and determine with us what our weaknesses are and where they can help," Mrs. Grasmick said. "If this is to work, it's not going to be from the top down. It's going to be school by school and community by community."