Independent school gets support

March 18, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Drawing cheers from more than 100 supporters, the Baltimore City school board pledged last night to work closely with architects of a plan to open a new school to be run primarily by parents and teachers but with city money.

Board President Philip H. Farfel's announcement came at the start of last night's board meeting, minutes after supporters rallied in front of school system headquarters for the second time in two weeks.

Reading from a prepared statement, Dr. Farfel promised that the board and Superintendent Walter G. Amprey would "establish a partnership" with the proposal's supporters to move ahead with the proposal to open the new school next fall.

But while appeasing supporters, the board's endorsement and pledge in no way amounted to approval for the proposal for a school to be run largely independent of the school system bureaucracy.

Many details -- including the site, funding, student admissions criteria and specifics on governance -- must be worked out in negotiations between the board and the proposal's backers.

But, Dr. Farfel said, "We think this is very doable, and our move shows this school board is very adaptable to reform and innovation."

The board's statement heartened supporters, who began work on the proposal two years ago.

"The board has at last illustrated a true commitment to involvinparents and the community in the schools," said Ava Lias Booker, head of the education committee for the nonprofit Citizens Planning and Housing Association. "Now at least we can move ahead with it."

The proposal has received strong endorsements from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, Councilman Carl Stokes, four community associations and a wide range of educators.

Mr. Schmoke has repeatedly expressed support -- and has said he hoped to budget $500,000 for the school to open in September -- but left the final decision to Dr. Amprey and the school board.

Both the superintendent and board had consistently rejected opening any new schools, saying that would detract from efforts to improve the existing 177 schools and remove necessary control to ensure the school complies with the district's goals. Instead, the board and superintendent had offered a program within an existing school.

But last night, the board softened that stance. Dr. Farfel said the board would retain ultimate governing authority, but that a "teacher-director" would be hired and would report to one of the six area superintendents instead of to a principal.

He added that the project would be "granted flexibility in defining and executing the educational programs."

Dr. Farfel said teachers would be hired from the personnel pool of city schools. But after the meeting, he said that definition could include newly hired teachers.

The board's decision comes two weeks after scores of supporters rallied in support of the "Stadium School," which would open with about 100 students in grades four to nine and would eventually expand to all grades.

Backers initially hoped to open the school inside offices at Memorial Stadium. But now that the Baltimore Colts Canadian Football League team has signed a lease to play there, proponents have suggested opening the school in the old shops building at City College.

Fed up with what they called failing city schools, they had argued that only a small school free of the central bureaucracy would foster the commitment and enthusiasm among parents and students to ensure success.

The groundswell of public support has been reminiscent of the battle mounted by parents in 1989 after then-Superintendent Richard C. Hunter rejected a proposal to bring the private Calvert School curriculum to Barclay Elementary. The mayor overruled Dr. Hunter, which contributed to the superintendent's eventual ouster.

Since then, the partnership between the North Baltimore private school and the Charles Village public school has won widespread praise for dramatically improving student performance and attendance.

A team of five teachers with experience in both public and private schools in Baltimore developed the original Stadium School proposal, along with about 30 city parents.

They propose a school governed by a board of teachers, parents and community members. Its curriculum would stress the environment and community involvement, as well as the staples of reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

Proponents said the school would recruit a mix of students representing the demographics of surrounding neighborhoods

and would not deny admission based on academic performance or special education needs.

The school would guarantee that it would meet state requirements, based on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, within five years -- or shut down.

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