A radical plan for ailing school

April 15, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

In one of its most radical efforts ever to revitalize a school, the Baltimore school system wants to remove the entire staff -- the principal, the teachers, even the janitors -- at troubled Patterson High.

Under the proposal -- part of a plan aimed at averting state takeover at the Baltimore school -- the estimated 130 employees would have to reapply for their jobs, competing with applicants from inside and outside the district.

The changes are designed to revive a school beset by worsening attendance, dropout rates and standardized test scores, city school officials say.

The proposal would eliminate staff members lacking the "necessary commitment" to improve the school, said Principal Leon W. Tillett Jr., one of seven members of a committee at Patterson that worked with top school system officials to devise the plan.

"The message sent by the state is that we can't have 'business as usual,' " said Mr. Tillett, who became principal this school year. "We have to do something completely different from what we've done in the past."

The proposal has drawn intense criticism from the 8,500-member Baltimore Teachers Union, which says wholesale removal of staff members would violate its contract.

Union leaders, who say they have been flooded with calls from Patterson teachers fearing for their jobs, promise a major battle if Nancy S. Grasmick, the state school superintendent, approves the plan.

"We're not going to let this happen, I assure you. It's like throwing out everything that the school's done well and starting from scratch. And that doesn't make sense," said Irene Dandridge, the union's president.

Dr. Grasmick is considering improvement plans sent to her by the city school system two weeks ago for Patterson and Douglass High, theonly other school targeted for possible state takeover under a new "academic bankruptcy" measure.

Douglass' improvement plan, which is far less radical, calls for sweeping changes in the curriculum and more involvement by parents.

Dr. Grasmick targeted the two schools in January as part of an unprecedented state effort to reverse the slide at troubled schools. No other schools will be targeted this year.

She is expected to decide within two weeks whether to accept the schools' improvement plans.

If she rejects them, the state could force Baltimore's school system to change principals, staff, curriculum or teaching methods at the two schools.

The state also could turn over operation of the schools to a private company or university.

State funds could be withheld from local school systems that refused to comply, but those systems would be given 10 days to challenge a takeover in a hearing before the state school board.

Dr. Grasmick said yesterday that it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of the plans before deciding on accepting them.

Ronald A. Peiffer, a state Department of Education spokesman, said in a statement that Dr. Grasmick expects the state measure to prompt radical approaches to saving schools.

"Schools seeking to make significant improvements need to do more than 'tinker around the edges' with school programs," he said.

The plans for Patterson and Douglass stress intensive staff training to improve teaching, more emphasis on career and technology programs, new summer programs for incoming ninth-graders who need remedial help and four-period days to provide longer classes.

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