Dr. Amprey: We must mend the schools A new spirit urged along with money

June 13, 1992

Baltimore's school system needs a renaissance of the spirit as much as it needs additional resources, says Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

Money alone will not close the gaps, he says. What's needed is commitment, innovative leadership at the school level, teamwork within the system and support from people outside it.

Improved schools provide an antidote to social decay, Dr. Amprey says, and a strengthening of public education in Baltimore will benefit the entire region.

Conversely, he says, a failure to act now will endanger thousands of children and cause a hemorrhage of costly social problems.

"We've got to reform the school system," says the superintendent. "What we're doing right now is not working effectively . . . everybody agrees on that."

City children need hope, he says. "They see failure all around them. They have to be motivated by believable hope that things will be better."

Here is a summary of Dr. Amprey's remarks during a wide-ranging interview with Sun reporters:

"Baltimore's on fire"

* The school crisis is everyone's problem. "I've got to convince people in this city who don't work for the school system that . . . they have no choice but to roll their sleeves up and help me, to work with me."

* Failure will have a domino effect. "We've got to convince those people outside of Baltimore . . . that they're inextricably tied to the future of the city and that they don't have much choice."

"They might be a couple years away from us from an economic point of view -- even closer from a demographic point of view. . . . So they've got to help."

"If your neighbor's house is on fire, you better help him put it out. Well, Baltimore's on fire."

"The crisis is happening"

* Inaction will be disastrous for children. "It's going to cost us our future. . . . It's just a matter of how long it takes, how many kids we lose, and how much it costs us to come to the realization that we are now paying for being short-sighted."

* Many citizens are apathetic. "I don't think they care. I think we have to force people to think beyond themselves. What's happening in Baltimore is happening to you. It's not just happening in Baltimore. It's all over. The crisis is happening."

* Scrimping on education is injurious to everyone. "I don't think that this society, that this country, is investing in its future."

"It's self- defeating. . . . It's going to hurt us all in the long run."

* The fallout of a weak educational system includes unemployment, drugs and crime. "I can see the problems growing exponentially."

"Our city seems to be just chasing its tail. . . . It's like the Three Stooges act. . . . We're all trying to get through the door and we're complaining and running around blaming each other."

"My thrust and emphasis"

* The school system's biggest needs fall into three categories: "better school-based leaders, better curriculum that deals with crucial problems like attendance, and a personal vision for all employees of the school system."

"Most of my thrust and emphasis has been in those three areas."

* Innovative leadership within schools is the engine of progress. "I don't think people are telling us that it's all money. I think it's about attitude and commitment, and that's where I've decided to focus."

* Curriculum is "the fuel that drives the engine" and must generate a new vitality in the public schools.

"We've got to address attendance. So many of our youngsters, K through 12, find it more inviting to be outside the schools rather than inside. . . . I think we have to find the curriculum that understands how kids learn naturally."

* Each staff member must feel like an important member of a team. "There must be a personal vision in place for all the employees of the school system. People must feel good about their own involvement and future."

"Very demoralized" teachers

* The instructional staff suffers from inadequate support and poor morale. "Currently, our teachers feel very demoralized and unsupported. Of course, the lack of pay, although it appears to be a salient concern, is not nearly as big in their minds as some issues relative to feeling rewarded and feeling that they have support and work in a climate that will allow them to be successful."

"There's a serious need to train our school-based administrators on how to create the climate that is motivating and rewarding."

* Baltimore's teachers are competent; they must meet certification requirements. But many teachers are not motivated. "I am not sure I would accept the fact that they are ineffective to the point they have to be removed."

"I am starting with the belief that we have a large cadre of people who are not giving it 100 percent, who don't have a curriculum in front of them that they've been trained to use."

"As a result of that, you've got a person who some untrained principal is saying is not effective, and the easy thing to do, just as we say give me more money, is to move this person out."

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