Schmoke wants more K-8 schools He's opposing idea of eliminating them

December 15, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he opposes a district recommendation to eliminate Baltimore's seven combined elementary- middle schools, preferring to see more schools with that structure.

"I am not a supporter of the proposal to eliminate K-8 schools," Mr. Schmoke said. "The ones I am familiar with seem to work very well. In fact, I intend to propose to the school board that in this [rezoning] process, they consider at least two other schools as K-8 pilot programs."

Mr. Schmoke said the two schools he will recommend converting to K-8 are Violetville and Charles Carroll of Carrollton elementaries. He said communities surrounding those schools had requested conversion to K-8, and that backing their plan is consistent with his larger vision of giving more local control to schools.

Mr. Schmoke's comments came before the school board began a series of hearings last night on its rezoning plan with a lightly attended forum at Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School on West Preston Street.

The proposal to eliminate elementary-middle schools was contained in a larger rezoning plan that would close nine schools, change the boundaries of 57 others and return all schools to the traditional elementary, middle and high groupings.

If the plan is approved, it would go into effect in September, shifting students out of crowded schools and adding them to schools with extra space. The school board is expected to vote on the plan in April.

Ten people spoke at last night's hearing, and several were in favor of the plan in its entirety.

"I support the rezoning plan," said Philip Brown, who said the changes should relieve crowding at Cecil Elementary School.

Others were there not to talk about the plan, but to air complaints about what they see as unsafe and overcrowded schools.

"Each day, my granddaughter has to fight in school," said Edith Jones. "The reason our children are not learning is that they are being abused by teachers who say they are stupid."

Carl Anderson, a parent of a Violetville Elementary student, was opposed to breaking up elementary-middle schools across the city.

"I haven't heard where anybody has made an indictment of the K-8 system," Mr. Anderson said. "I think what we're doing is forcing people out of the system."

At the time, Mr. Anderson was unaware that Mr. Schmoke's shared his opposition to the elementary-middle school proposal.

"This [elementary-middle school] proposal was not going to make the final cut," Mr. Schmoke said. "All I'm trying to do is encourage people to discuss all aspects of the plan and not just react to one aspect of the plan or feel the entire plan is suspect because they don't believe in this one proposal."

The mayor said he was briefed on the plan before it was made public last week. The mayor said that while he saw the elementary-middle school proposal as a "land mine," he did not order any changes because it was a preliminary plan, subject to public review. Instead, he said he wanted the debate to move forward.

"The people who drafted this proposal felt there was a legitimate issue," he said. "They felt strongly about the stand-alone middle school model. I thought it was worth discussing. But I let them know I was not a proponent of eliminating K-8."

Last night, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said educational research demonstrates that separate middle schools offer a better way of educating students, when they are run properly. They offer a more advanced learning environment in which to prepare students for high school, he said.

"I am convinced they would be better in the long run," he said.

But, he said that Mr. Schmoke's position on the issue reflects the city's political realities. "He has to gauge what's going on, and I totally support him," Dr. Amprey said. "He probably sees an issue that has a potential to upset the city."

But even as he defended middle schools, Dr. Amprey conceded that Baltimore's combined elementary-middle schools generally are better managed and less disruptive than are its large middle schools.

Many parents have made it clear that they feel the same way.

Groups have met at Roland Park and Hazelwood schools to plot strategy for opposing the plan. Those parents say combined elementary-middle schools offer a better education because students are in a more restrictive environment and generally are better known by school staff because of the length of time they spend in one school.

"My hope is that people will understand that I am not a supporter of the K-8 plan," Mr. Schmoke said. "My sense is that the proposal will be off the table early in the process. . . . The bottom line is that [combined schools] seem to work in Baltimore. So let's move on to other issues."

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