Fed-up city parents want public school of their own

March 04, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Fed up with Baltimore public schools, more than 100 parents asked the city school board last night to let them open a school of their own -- with public money, but independent of the system headquarters.

The proposal to open the first public school in the city operated by parents and teachers has won the support of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- but not of Superintendent Walter G. Amprey who, along with the board, has been given the final say by the mayor.

The parents' campaign is reminiscent of the battle mounted by other parents in 1989 after then-Superintendent Richard C. Hunter rejected a proposal to bring the private Calvert School curriculum to Barclay Elementary.

Mr. Schmoke overruled Dr. Hunter, and the episode contributed to a soured relationship and the superintendent's eventual ouster. The partnership between the North Baltimore private school and the Charles Village public school began in 1990 and has won widespread praise for dramatically improving student performance and attendance.

"We can no longer wait for decent schools," said Jay Gillen, one of the architects of the proposal to open the school in the Waverly area. "Our children need a decent education, and they need it now."

Parents, many with young children in tow, took up that battle cry last night outside North Avenue headquarters. A crowd of more than 100 chanted "Give us our school" and carried placards reading "Listen to the community" and "Give us the money for our education." Supporters then took their case to the school board.

The parents complained that despite the praise for their detailed, 53-page proposal from Mr. Schmoke, four influential community groups, city lawmakers and a wide range of educators, Dr. Amprey has refused even to consider the school.

Dr. Amprey's resistance has proved especially frustrating, supporters said, because Mr. Schmoke had repeatedly endorsed the proposal. The mayor has said he hoped to budget about $500,000 for the school to open by September but would leave the final decision to Dr. Amprey and the board.

"The mayor does like the concept and supports the project and would like to make it happen," Mr. Schmoke's press secretary, Clinton R. Coleman, said last night.

Dr. Amprey has said he agrees that the proposed school -- which would open with about 100 students in grades four to nine and would eventually be expanded to all grades -- appeared sound educationally.

But after the meeting, he repeated his opposition to opening a new school. Doing so, he said, would detract from efforts to improve the existing 177 schools -- the reason he has also rejected several other proposals for community-based schools.

Dr. Amprey supports an alternative: an independent program within an existing school . "The main issue is governance. We like the concept of a teacher-driven school, but we want to have it within a current school to make sure it fits in with the overall vision of the school system," he said last night.

The proposal before the school board, known as the Stadium School Project because backers initially hoped to open inside offices at Memorial Stadium, has been in the works for more than two years. Because the stadium will be used by the new Baltimore Colts Canadian Football League team, parents have proposed using the old shops building on the City College campus .

Councilman Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat who is chairman of the Education and Human Resources Committee, spoke in favor of the proposal at last night's board meeting. Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who has expressed support previously, sat with the parents.

Mr. Stokes praised the proposal and said: "I'm very disturbed, frustrated and angry at times at how much we fight with [parents], and how many obstacles . . . and hoops we put them through. These folks know what needs to be done, and they're ready to go. Let's do it now."

Supporters asked the board to approve a contract by April 3 to provide the money to open the school in September and to develop procedures for considering similar proposals.

But board President Phillip H. Farfel said the school system has no intention of creating new schools. "If we're going to establish new programs, they'll be schools within schools," he said.

He added, however, that the board would consider carefully the Stadium School Project and respond by the next meeting March 17.

Alexine Campbell, the Stadium School parent coordinator, told the board: "We cannot understand the hostility we have met, or why we have had to do battle so hard to get your support for a school that responds to your needs and aspirations."

Supporters said that the "school within a school" preferred by Dr. Amprey and the board president would defeat their purpose, as they believe only a small school free of central office interference would engender the commitment and enthusiasm among parents and students to ensure success.

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