Amprey to remove principal at Harlem Park Middle

December 17, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey is removing the principal of Harlem Park Middle School in West Baltimore, one of nine city public schools being run by a private company in a high-profile experiment.

Dr. Amprey told school faculty about the impending change yesterday, a day after Principal Nicky Johnson told teachers she would be replaced, according to Nat Harrington, school spokesman.

Ms. Johnson, who took over as principal at Harlem Park this school year, formerly was principal at Abbottston Elementary in North Baltimore, where she did an "excellent" job, said Mr. Harrington.

The superintendent has not said when Ms. Johnson would leave Harlem Park, where she would go or who would take her place. He also has not formally given a reason for the change, said Mr. Harrington.

But Barbara Cruise, an eighth-grade science teacher at Harlem Park, said Dr. Amprey told teachers the shake-up had been building for months. She said conditions at the historically troubled school were sometimes chaotic, with discipline problems undercutting the so-called "Tesseract" experiment.

The first week of school, a student at Harlem Park was arrested for having a loaded handgun. In late October, police were called in after a confrontation that began near the school grew into a melee on nearby Edmondson Avenue.

"No program can work until you get discipline," said Ms. Cruise. "At this school, we need to get the children back in order before this program can take place."

The announcement took some parents and staff by surprise.

"Right now I'm in total shock," said Irma Ellison, vice president of the Harlem Park PTO. "I knew the situation was bad, but I didn't know about the dismissal of the principal."

She said parents should be consulted: "If there's something wrong with the principal, let [them] know."

She also said the school has seen some improvements this year, but that major changes would take time.

"They didn't give the lady a chance," Ms. Ellison said, adding that she continues to support the Tesseract program, despite the problems.

The Tesseract experiment put nine schools in the hands of Education Alternatives Inc., starting this school year under a five-year contract. But the school system retains authority to assign -- and replace -- principals and other professional staff at those schools.

Harlem Park is the only middle school in Tesseract, named for a term from a child's science fiction novel meant to suggest imaginative new approaches to education. The program, which is being phased in through the year, promises two instructors in each classroom, individualized education plans for each student and a wealth of computers.

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