City school redistricting proposed Parents vow to fight for K-8 programs

December 10, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

In a plan certain to spark fierce community debate, Baltimor school officials yesterday proposed closing nine schools, changing the boundaries of 57 others and returning all schools to the traditional elementary, middle and high school groupings.

If approved by the school board in April, the plan would go into effect in September, shifting students out of overcrowded schools and adding them to schools with extra space.

The names of the schools and other details of the plan, the first comprehensive rezoning since the mid-1970s, will be released at a special school board meeting tonight.

But the plan won't be approved without a fight.

One certain target: a proposal to eliminate the popular arrangement which allows students to start in pre-kindergarten and continue through eighth grade in the same school. That model is used at seven schools, including such high-profile locations as Roland Park and Barclay elementary-middle schools.

That proposal also would affect "primary schools," which serve children in the earliest grades. Among those are Malcolm X Elementary School, one of nine city schools being run by a private contractor in the so-called "Tesseract" program. Malcolm serves children in pre-kindergarten through the second grade.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey yesterday declined to give details about the fate of the Tesseract program at that school, other than to say that "the kids who are in Tesseract schools will remain in Tesseract schools."

Parents and school leaders at some of the affected schools were immediately critical of the plan.

"We'll be ready to go to war," vowed JoAnn Robinson, parent-community coordinator at Barclay in Northeast Baltimore. "This community fought very hard, very systematically to get the best possible model for the children."

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the state Board of Education and parent of a child at Roland Park, said the proposed change could drive parents to pull their children out of some public schools.

"I think the decision is very ill-advised," he said. "I would love to see the research on Baltimore schools that shows that kids do better in middle schools that are separated [from elementary schools] . . . My information is just the opposite."

Dr. Amprey said that educational research demonstrates that separate middle schools are a better way of educating students, when they are run properly.

But he conceded that Baltimore's pre-kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools generally are better managed and less disruptive than its large middle schools.

"I believe that they're working better than they were 15 months ago," he said of the separate middle schools dotted around the city. But he added, "I am not happy with the instructional program. There's still too much warehousing, too much baby-sitting."

Still, he argued that rezoning proposals are "in the best interest of all of our schools in an egalitarian way."

And he suggested that the pre-kindergarten-through-eighth grade model grew up as an attempt to secure the white middle class in a city where the black population has steadily grown.

Those issues are likely to come to the fore in the debate over the plan, which, Dr. Amprey said, would "include issues such as race, neighborhood sorts of issues such as elitism."

But others predicted that political opposition would force school officials to backpedal on plans to eliminate the K-8 model.

"They're going to have to take it back," said City Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, who chairs the council's education subcommittee. "I side with the communities. The K-8's are working. Those schools are doing OK, so why not boost them up?"

And parents themselves vowed to turn out in opposition to the plan at a series of community forums scheduled for next week and in January.

"We're not happy with it," said Dorothy Frey, a parent at Hazelwood Elementary-Middle School in Northeast Baltimore and vice president of the school's parent-teachers group. "Why fix something that's working? We're at a school that's working."

The plan being proposed today has been in the works for more than a year. It is intended to deal with the dramatic population changes that have produced overcrowded schools in some neighborhoods and underused school buildings in others.

The city last revised its school district boundaries in the mid-1970s, at a time when it had 215 public schools and 160,000 students. Last year's enrollment was about 110,000 students at 178 schools.

Once presented to the school board, the plan will be open for public comment at a series of forums at schools around the city, three next week and three in January.

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