State won't take control of Douglass High

April 20, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Frederick Douglass High School averted possible state takeover yesterday, while Patterson High appeared to move a step closer to a radical housecleaning that would remove the entire staff.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick rejected the city's plan to stave off state intervention at Patterson by removing the school's staff. But at the same time, she said she supported that idea -- and rejected the plan solely because it lacked enough specifics to guarantee improvements at the school after any shake-up.

Douglass High, the only other target of a new state "academic bankruptcy" measure aimed at failing schools, fared much better: Dr. Grasmick accepted key provisions of an ambitious plan that would divide the school into separate academic and career-preparation programs.

If the state school board approves the Patterson recommendation Tuesday, as expected, the city district could appeal, or write a new plan.

Dr. Grasmick and city Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said at a news conference that a new plan for Patterson, at 100 Kane St., would still call for removing the entire staff at the East Baltimore school in addition to providing many more specifics for school improvements.

Under the original Patterson plan, all 130 staffers -- including the principal and all the teachers -- would have been removed, then compete for their jobs against candidates from inside and outside the district.

Dr. Grasmick called removing the entire staff "a bold strategy that represents the kind of creative approach we had hoped for" -- but only as a first step toward improving the school.

She faulted the plan, written by a seven-member team at the school and top district officials, for its lack of a comprehensive academic program and "management plan."

"The state Department of Education finds [removing the staff] to be a very powerful strategy, and we're fully supportive of the local board's authority to do that," she said. "We found that there were significant deficiencies in the plan, while embracing the boldness of the strategy."

Dr. Amprey said city school administrators have not decided whether to appeal the Patterson plan's rejection. He said the plan included few details on the academic program because school officials wanted to give a new staff the flexibility to decide strategy.

Dr. Amprey praised the state's efforts to make local districts more accountable for results and pledged to work closely with state education officials.

"We recognize that there are deficiencies in our school system that we must assiduously address," he said. "We have been totally cooperative and have attempted to be compliant."

Dr. Grasmick had high praise for the Douglass strategy. "It's a very powerful plan for schools within a school. It's a bold plan. It represents good thought, and it is substantive and cohesive."

She approved it, with conditions that the city district agreed to immediately. They include a new school system team to oversee the plan and more details on changes in the instructional program.

Douglass' plan would divide the West Baltimore school's curriculum into programs including career and technology, entrepreneurships, music and premilitary.

The school, at 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway, also would create a "family support center" offering services ranging from wake-up calls for students to employment training for parents.

The plan stresses 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, which provide longer classes.

It also calls for more tutoring, better monitoring of attendance and student progress, more efforts to involve parents and the community, tougher disciplinary policies, more mentoring programs, and self-contained programs known as "schools within a school."

Dr. Grasmick had been considering improvement plans sent by the city school system April 1 for Patterson and Douglass. Committees, including principals, parents and teachers at both schools, worked with top city school officials to devise the plans.

The state superintendent identified the two schools as targets in January as part of an unprecedented state effort to reverse the slide at schools beset by continuously worsening attendance, dropout rates and standardized test scores.

No other Maryland schools will be targeted this year.

Under the new measure, if Dr. Grasmick rejects an improvement plan, the state could require the local school system to change principals, staff, curriculum or teaching methods.

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

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

The first potential takeover targets are two that Dr. Grasmick and other state education officials deemed most in need of outside help.

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