Within hours after a security guard was shot and wounded while disarming a student at Roland Park Middle School, Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke was proposing an "alternative" school for disruptive middle schoolers. It is an excellent idea.
The city has no special program for disruptive students. Those who cause problems in one school are often simply transferred to another school -- which is how the student with the gun came to be enrolled at Roland Park. While some students may benefit from a fresh start, a new environment and different peer group, often such disciplinary transfers simply move a problem from one school to another. It makes sense to give them special attention in a special school.
First, the details must be worked. Mayor Schmoke and School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, have just begun to discuss ** the idea. The mayor indicated he wanted to consider having the school run by a private contractor and that he hoped the job could be done at the same per-pupil cost as the regular program. The mayor should leave such decisions open while the idea is studied.
Just getting the most disruptive kids out of the regular schools would help those students who remain. As for the school catering to students with a track record for trouble, it needs to have more than a custodial role. It requires more stringent security measures than regular schools, as well as smaller classes, specially-trained teachers and additional counseling. It is unrealistic to expect this to be accomplished within the regular per-pupil budget -- which is inadequate even to provide a standard program for average students.
Baltimore's needs in this area are simply one more reason why the state needs to address its entire system of school financing, which places too much of the burden on local home owners in the city and in the resource-poor rural counties.
Beyond setting up a special school, Dr. Amprey should take a hard look at the entire middle school program. The idea of middle schools was to create smaller, student-centered buildings that would better serve students who are at a difficult age. But too often, the large, impersonal junior highs were replaced with large, impersonal middle schools. The result has been buildings with a disproportionate share of violence. In a one-week period in December, a teacher was attacked by students at Booker T. Washington Middle School, a student was beaten with a nightstick by a non-student at William H. Lemmel Middle School, a student was hospitalized after a fight at Lombard Middle School and 13 students were hurt in a stampede at Herring Run Middle School. The city has to do more for its middle schools than remove a few bad apples.