Amprey unveils regional plan City schools aim is to decentralize decision-making.

March 26, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Goodbye ivory tower, hello little red schoolhouse.

That's the plan for some school bureaucrats in Baltimore, where Superintendent Walter G. Amprey unveiled the latest phase of his reorganization plan yesterday.

Dr. Amprey announced that he is chopping the school system into six geographic regions and putting an assistant superintendent in charge of all schools in each region.

Each of those assistants will report directly to him and will likely work out of a school, rather than out of school headquarters on North Avenue.

The plan, effective in September, is part of a continuing reorganization of the city's school system by Dr. Amprey, who took over in August.

His aim is to shift authority from school headquarters to the schools themselves. That shift toward local decision-making has been a top priority of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Among the other changes announced yesterday, and effective April 6, Dr. Amprey said he will:

* Recombine the departments of curriculum and instruction, which had once been a single department.

* Name Dr. Jeanette H. Evans, currently director of special projects, to the new post of chief of staff. Her current post will be eliminated.

* Eliminate the position of executive assistant to the superintendent.

The regional administrative structure announced yesterday is a big change from the current setup, in which six "directors" at North Avenue oversee schools scattered throughout the city.

Currently, each director deals with a specific type of school -- elementary, middle or high schools -- and not with a mix of all three.

By contrast, the new area superintendents will be in charge of all the schools within their region, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Each will assist and supervise 29 or 30 schools in their region, with a student population of about 18,000 in each region.

Dr. Amprey's aim is to move the school system's top brass closer to the schools and to the principals they supervise.

"Decision making must be moved to its lowest practical point," he said at a packed news conference yesterday. "We must rethink and shed some old paradigms."

The regional system is similar to one in place in Baltimore County. It also harks back to a similar structure in place in Baltimore in the early 1970s in which each region had about 35 staff members, Dr. Amprey noted.

But Dr. Amprey insisted that his structure is more streamlined, that it will cost the school system no more money and that it will not add staff.

Instead of large regional staffs, he plans only three bureaucrats in each region: an area assistant superintendent, an administrative assistant and a secretary.

However, Dr. Amprey admitted that school officials will have to take care that the new structure doesn't grow out of hand.

"We can only get around that by how we behave," he said. "We could fall right back into a bureaucratic mode if we're not really diligent."

The plan drew a cautious but generally positive reaction from school department observers.

"There's one very definite 'plus' -- he has moved the principals closer to him," said Sheila Kolman, head of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association.

Ms. Kolman said the principals would have only one bureaucrat -- the area superintendent -- between them and the head of the system.

She also praised the idea of having area superintendents work with a range of schools, not just with elementary or secondary schools.

"There is a K-through-12 flow, and there is more of a community in this kind of structure," said Ms. Kolman.

Irene B. Dandridge, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, had a mixed reaction.

"I'm happy that it's cut out some of the bureaucracy," she said. "Our problem is there is nothing that's being said about what goes on at the classroom level."

Robert L. Wilson, president of the Baltimore City Council of PTAs, said he favors clustering different kinds of schools together under a single regional administrator.

"It brings a cohesiveness to the system," he said of the superintendent's plan.

The plan is "a continuation of pushing things away from North Avenue," said Jeffrey Valentine, a spokesman for the Greater Baltimore Committee.

"He's really pushing site-based decision-making and site-based instructional management."

Others are reserving judgment until they see how the plan is put into effect.

"Organizational charts are great, but what matters is the people who fill those positions," said Mindy Mintz, an educational specialist with Advocates for Children and Youth. The plan will not work "if it's business as usual and the bureaucracy remains the bureaucracy."

The changes announced yesterday stem in part from several studies of the school system's management commissioned by Dr. Amprey.

An internal review, conducted by Denise Borders, the school system's head of educational accountability, examined every job in the central administration.

Meanwhile, a team of consultants who specialize in urban school systems is examining the central administration, in a study funded through foundation grants.

In addition, the school department hired three outside consultants, at a cost of $24,000, to conduct their own reorganization study, which formed part of Dr. Amprey's ultimate plan. That study, released in January, also recommended dividing the system into six regions.

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