Amprey's Home-Grown Challenge

August 31, 1993

Walter Amprey isn't the only person who can lead the Baltimore City schools, but he's the only person who is leading them. He's made a good beginning, and the city is fortunate that he will be staying with the job.

Dr. Amprey was a finalist for the chancellorship in New York City, and he was flattered to be considered seriously to take on what may be the toughest job in education. But last week, he withdrew himself from consideration in New York, assuring Baltimore needed continuity in its efforts to improve its schools.

The superintendent needn't regret challenges he'll be missing in New York; he'll have plenty while he remains in charge of the school system he attended and in which he taught.

The problems are familiar: Achievement continues to lag behind other systems in Maryland at a time the state is moving to implement new and more stringent standards. Poverty, drugs and family difficulties complicate the educational task. And, despite a high city tax rate, a limited tax base produces per-pupil spending which leaves city schools with thousands of dollars per classroom less than suburban counterparts. This, in turn, means a lack of staff and books, and teacher salaries which are not competitive with surrounding systems.

Dr. Amprey has attracted the most attention for launching programs under which a private company began running nine city schools last year, and a second firm began this summer to run remedial programs in several other schools.

He has backed other programs designed to give some schools more control over their own programs. He has shifted administrators around, brought in some new faces and pushed out some incumbents. And he has latched onto training in "efficacy," designed to convince the staff that all students can learn.

How well is this working? Early reviews of the programs run by private contractors are positive, but it's too early to measure improvement in achievement -- never mind to figure out how the benefits of these programs (if, in fact, there are benefits) can be ,, applied to all the schools.

What can be said, two years into the Amprey administration, is that he's tackling the city's problems and he's offering plausible solutions. He has the confidence of key school "stakeholders." And, now it can be said that he's staying to see the job through.

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