Douglass High's principal to be replaced in effort to avoid state takeover

March 01, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Saying Frederick Douglass High needs a tough disciplinarian at the helm to reduce disruptions and to reverse the school's slide, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey announced yesterday that he is replacing Principal Shirley T. Hill on Monday.

Dr. Amprey called his decision to replace Mrs. Hill with Orrester Shaw, principal at Elmer A. Henderson Elementary in East Baltimore, a first step to avert state takeover by devising an improvement plan acceptable to the state superintendent.

Mrs. Hill, who took over the West Baltimore school in July 1991, will be transferred to headquarters to assist the school system's six area superintendents, Dr. Amprey said.

Before a news conference, Dr. Amprey met with the school's teachers and other staff members to explain his decision, and they gave Mrs. Hill a standing ovation. Dr. Amprey told Mrs. Hill of her impending move last week, he said.

During Mrs. Hill's tenure, the superintendent noted, Douglass has been beset by continually declining academic performance, rising dropout rates and increasingly frequent disruptions among unruly students.

"The kinds of problems that have developed over the past two and a half to three years . . . require a change in leadership, so we're doing that," he said.

"We need a strong disciplinarian here, and I think Mr. Shaw is going to bring more discipline and order to Douglass High School. He has demonstrated the kind of bent or penchant toward order and refusal to accept or condone disruptive behavior."

Dr. Amprey said he did not consider the move a demotion for Mrs. Hill.

Efforts to reach Mrs. Hill and Mr. Shaw yesterday were unsuccessful.

The superintendent's decision drew support from students interviewed at the school and members of the school improvement team, composed of alumni, parents, teachers and others. While praising Mrs. Hill, they said Douglass needs a firmer hand at the top.

Douglass recently became one of only two Maryland schools targeted for possible takeover by the state under a new measure intended to rescue "academically bankrupt" schools, based on worsening attendance, dropout rates and standardized test scores. No other Maryland schools will be targeted this year.

The measure, approved in November by the state Board of Education, allows the board to force changes in principals or other staff at failing schools, rewrite curricula, order revisions in teaching methods or turn them over to private operators or universities.

City school officials have until April 1 to send improvement plans for Douglass and Patterson high schools to state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. The state could proceed toward a takeover or other changes if she rejects the plans.

But state officials said Douglass, opposite Mondawmin Mall, and Patterson, at 100 Kane St. in East Baltimore, have declined steadily during the past several years and probably will not improve without the threat of state intervention. Douglass ranks among Maryland's lowest schools in the proportion of students passing functional reading, math, writing and citizenship tests.

Only 52 percent of Douglass' students passed all the tests by 11th grade, compared with a statewide average of 93 percent. More than 38 percent of all students dropped out during the past school year, compared with a statewide average of 5.2 percent, and the daily attendance is about 70 percent, compared with a statewide average exceeding 90 percent in high schools.

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