Baltimore Co. schools open today amid uproar

September 07, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

At Chadwick Elementary School, about 70 youngsters starting classes this morning won't know if they are in kindergarten, first or second grade.

In Towson, 450 freshman and sophomores who in previous years would have been attending two dozen high schools will find themselves at the new Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

None of these students is lost. The youngsters are the vanguard of change for the Baltimore County schools. And the change looks like this:

Multi-age grouping, magnet programs, transfers of disabled children to neighborhood schools, breakfast in every school, site-based management for principals, alternative schools for troubled youngsters and new report cards for many students.

Last year's plans are this year's realities, as nearly 96,000 students open the county's 149 schools today and the second year of Stuart Berger's superintendency begins.

Last year's talk also continues, as many parents and teachers fret over the superintendent's new policies and programs.

The public storm last spring over transfers of disabled students to neighborhood schools and the demotion of 40 administrators was revived last week when the Baltimore County Schools Task Force issued a report criticizing Dr. Berger and the school board on both counts. The board will meet tonight at 8 at Cockeysville Middle School.

Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said that teachers are "not up" for the new school year. He said that they're apprehensive and worry that the management style that brought the demotion of longtime and highly evaluated administrators might portend unwelcome changes for them.

Dr. Berger, however, said in an interview late last week that the teachers and principals with whom he's met recently are enthusiastic, brought together, perhaps, by "the pounding" that the schools have taken over the last six months. "Everywhere I go, I am amazed how up the staff is," he said.

The superintendent described himself as "incredibly optimistic" despite the critical task force report, a lawsuit over special education placements, administrators challenging their demotions, continuing criticism from around the community and a school board that seems to be slowing the pace of the changes he wants to make.

"Has the criticism bothered me? Yes. Has it demoralized me? Yes. But I'm not going to be judged by radio talk shows," he said. "I think so many good things are going to happen this year, that [the critics] are going to get off our case. I don't think I'm a Pollyanna."

Among the changes:

* Multi-age grouping: Some 72 Chadwick youngsters who are ready for kindergarten, first grade and second grade will get together in one very large classroom with three teachers. Their program, and multi-age programs at three other schools, blur traditional grade levels to let children learn at their own pace.

Although the seeds of the program were planted several years ago, this arrangement coincides with Dr. Berger's philosophy that "all children can learn, but not in the same way and not on the same day."

Multi-age grouping is "meeting children where they are and taking them as far as they are able to go," said Lois Valentine, the principal of Eastwood Center, which will have about 20 youngsters in one multi-age classroom.

If a kindergartner is able to do first-grade work by March, he won't have to wait until September to get the chance. If a first-grader fails to master all the first-grade curriculum by June, she won't return to first-grade, but simply pick up in September where she left off in the spring, Ms. Valentine said.

Because the programs are experimental, parents had the choice of putting their youngsters in multi-age programs or standard kindergarten, first- and second-grade classrooms at Chadwick,

Eastwood, Kingsville and Fort Garrison elementaries.

* Magnet programs: More than 3,000 high school students are pursuing their special interests in the county's seven new magnet programs.

At Carver (the former Central Vocational Technical School), the students will concentrate on visual, performing or literary arts, while completing their other high school requirements.

At Western school of Technology and Environmental Sciences (the former Western Vocational Technical Center in Catonsville), students will relate all of their subject material to the environment.

Woodlawn High will have about 70 students from the west side of the county in its research-oriented science and math magnet.

International Baccalaureate programs for students who are highly motivated and academically able have attracted about 65 students each at Kenwood and Milford Mill high schools.

And Eastern Vocational Technical School and the Southeastern Technical Magnet School also have broadened their programs. Eastern will have 1,150 students and Southeastern, 670.

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