Seeking solutions for Baltimore

April 28, 1992

Urban education is a field where problems are many, solutions few. What works in one situation may not be successful in others. Yet the search must go on for methods to make schools better.

Baltimoreans will have a chance tomorrow to hear how one school reform effort, in New York's East Harlem, succeeded. As a deputy superintendent, Seymour Fliegel took one of the nation's most disadvantaged school districts in 1974 and turned it gradually into a system of alternative education programs, where students can choose among 24 junior high schools offering specialties from maritime skills to performing arts.

Known as "Papa Sly," Mr. Fliegel, who now is a consultant, started to experiment with his "choice" options after he came to the conclusion "nobody in the bureaucracy cared about these schools or these kids." The plan developed gradually. "We learned to dance in the dark," he says.

Over the years, the choice concept has produced soaring student achievement results and higher parent satisfaction. But while the concept has its advocates, it has its critics.

The Citizens Planning and Housing Association, in selecting Mr. Fliegel to kick off its forum, wanted to contribute to the discussion about the direction of the city public schools. In recent years, schools have become one of CPHA's priority areas. The organization compiled a pioneering "report card" on the performance of elementary schools. It now feels that with a new superintendent at the helm, Baltimore's school system again faces momentous changes where the available options should be widely understood.

Mr. Fliegel's presentation is one of three discussions in this year's CPHA program which have the theme, "Beyond Survival: New Strategies for the City." The first will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the University of Baltimore's Langsdale Auditorium, Maryland Avenue and Oliver Street. Sister Carol Keck, a nun who led community organizing in transforming a drug-ridden Philadelphia neighborhood, will be the forum speaker May 27. The final event of the series, on June 3, will focus on alternatives to public housing projects in high-rises.

CPHA's forum last year drew capacity crowds and provoked much discussion. We urge readers to attend this season's programs and become part of solution to Baltimore's problems.

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