The Baltimore City schools need more principals like Evelyn T. Beasley, who retires this month after 38 years in the system, the last 17 as principal of Roland Park Elementary and Middle School.
She lifted Roland Park to its potential by identifying allies and working with them, by expecting excellence from pupils and teachers and parents, by believing deeply in it herself and by smashing obstructions as if she was some manic bulldozer.
If Superintendent Walter D. Amprey really wants to improve city schools, he ought to figure out what made Mrs. Beasley tick and package it. He could do worse than engage her as consultant and mentor to principals.
This primarily black school in a primarily white neighborhood surrounded by private schools was plummeting in achievement, discipline and self-respect in 1976 when Mrs. Beasley was appointed, fresh from a turn-around of Hazelwood Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore.
Soon she and parents were persuading real estate brokers to tout the public school when selling the neighborhood. Then she and parents were lobbying for an advanced academic course for seventh and eighth graders. It opened in 1978 with more demand than places. Soon, Roland Park was a major feeder to the city magnet high schools. Then it was attracting recruiters from the leading prep schools in the land, brandishing scholarships. The word was out that this was where to find black youth capable of the most academically challenging ninth grade work anywhere.
Excellence was achieved without an extra dollar of budget and with an old, inadequate building. Yet the school was a model of what successive superintendents said they wanted. Its principal was a strong leader, it practiced school-based management, it enjoyed strong community support and it was a model of interracial cooperation.
The high point came when the system undertook to disperse the school for two years while replacing its building. Mrs. Beasley and parents who included architects and builders produced a plan to renovate, build an addition and keep the school going in place. The result was Baltimore's architectural achievement of 1986.
The school has detractors in the system, and too many students. Some say it has gone down under the pressure. One of the arguments for -- and against -- magnet schools is that middle class parents want them, they bolster affluent neighborhoods (certainly Roland Park) and they move some children along faster than others. But their biggest impact is upward mobility for youth of deprived backgrounds. The annual migration of inner city youth with Roland Park training from an array of high schools to the best colleges is the most important impact the program has had.