Another City School Reshuffling

March 28, 1992

In the Baltimore City school system, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The system's hierarchy, first headquartered on 25th Street, then on North Avenue, has been reorganized at least 11 times since the late Roland N. Patterson "decentralized" the system in 1973 -- breaking it into nine regions. Each of Dr. Patterson's three successors had a reorganization plan, and Dr. Patterson's regions gradually disappeared as the system became "recentralized."

But nothing has changed in the way power flows in city schools. It flows from the top down -- as it has done so for decades. Orders move from the superintendent and his top staff, through the bureaucracy to the principals and teachers. In short, those who are most directly engaged in education -- the teachers and students -- are farthest from where decisions are made.

Walter G. Amprey, the new superintendent, is no exception in having his own reorganization plan. His flow-chart looks like Dr. Patterson's, only it is much less elaborate: six areas, not nine regions; two or three professionals and a secretary in each office, not 30 to 35 staff members. But Dr. Amprey's rationale is the same as Dr. Patterson's: to move decision-making closer to its "lowest practical point" -- to the schools.

It's commendable that Dr. Amprey recognizes, as he said in releasing his plan Wednesday, that there are fundamental flaws in the school system's organizational structure. But his plan won't work if it merely rearranges the boxes in an organizational chart, substituting one layer of bureaucracy for another. That is what his predecessors did. It's not where the boxes are on the chart that counts; it's who fills the boxes.

If the city school superintendent can fill those slots with smart, sensitive, humane and gutsy educators dedicated to improving what goes on in the classroom, perhaps this 12th reorganization for the Baltimore public schools will be the first lasting one.

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