Three years ago, Barclay School in Charles Village entered a partnership with Baltimore's private Calvert School. The world-famous Calvert curriculum, first developed for home study during a turn-of-the-century whooping cough epidemic, was instituted grade-by-grade starting with kindergarten and first grade.
The Abell Foundation financed the partnership over the strenuous objections of School Superintendent Richard Hunter, who lost his job (with a huge assist from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke) in large part because he played the narrow-minded bureaucrat in the Barclay-Calvert affair.
Now the results of the first three years of collaboration are in, and they are excellent. Test scores are up, attendance is up and class size is down at a school that mirrors the social and economic conditions of the city. There's now talk of extending the partnership into middle school -- and to other elementary schools around the city.
What lessons can we draw from the Barclay-Calvert success? The primary one is that when parents and community leaders work together with local educators like Barclay's redoubtable principal, Gertrude Williams, they can transform a school. They can do it even when the superintendent and his curriculum experts resist.
Much of Dr. Hunter's resistance was based on his concern that the private-school Calvert curriculum hadn't been tested on an inner-city public school.
Well, now it has. Dr. Hunter's successor, Walter Amprey, has a different attitude. Experiment, he says, and let's see what works and what doesn't. That's the proper attitude, the non-bureaucratic one, the one needed in a city desperately in search of educational answers.
Is the Calvert curriculum good for every school? That's a question that still needs to be answered. At least initially, it is costly; Abell provided $300,000 for the collaboration. But educators say the Calvert curriculum should be less expensive after its start-up costs.
A curriculum used by isolated students around the globe cannot be fancy. In fact, the Calvert curriculum is very carefully prescribed. Each piece is designed to fit the others, like a well-turned-out jigsaw puzzle. Students repeat assignments until they learn them. Parents are heavily involved. Each month, students take home a folder of completed and corrected work.
Nothing very fancy here, nothing magical. But worth pursuing on the basis of these good first results.