Maine school may take over Patterson High

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

Faced with a threatened state takeover of troubled Patterson High, Baltimore school officials want to turn over its management to a private Maine boarding school that stresses character-building and parental involvement.

The Hyde School of Bath is in the final stages of negotiating a five-year contract to take over East Baltimore's Patterson, Walter G. Amprey, Baltimore's school superintendent, said yesterday.

From the beginning, Hyde's plan would be a departure from traditional public education. Before they ever attended a class, all Patterson students would go through at least two weeks of character-building orientation -- such as climbing ropes, writing journals, talking in groups about their "inner feelings," and singing in front of classmates.

"The whole problem with the school system in America is we focus on the subject instead of the student," said Joseph W. Gauld, a veteran teacher and outspoken critic of education in the United States who founded Hyde 13 years ago.

"Everybody's got to change and change radically. If you put character first, you take care of the academics. We don't just put kids in the classroom until they're motivated to be there."

The proposal -- the latest effort by Baltimore school officials to look outside the city for help -- is subject to approval from the school board and the Board of Estimates. The state also would have to approve the plan for Patterson, one of two targets of a new measure allowing state intervention at failing schools.

The proposal concerning Hyde, a 200-student, coeducational boarding school on the Maine coast, drew criticism from Baltimore Teachers Union President Irene B. Dandridge. Noting that Hyde seems to sell its services to inner-city schools but not in suburbs such as Baltimore County, she said, "I think they're making a big mistake thinking our minority parents and the community want to privatize our schools.

"So far, the only thing Amprey had brought to Baltimore's schools is privatization in three years," she said. "I'm waiting for him as superintendent to come up with a plan for Baltimore City schools of his own, that doesn't involved giving away our schools to a private concern."

Mr. Gauld, the Hyde School founder, said he met with Patterson's staff Tuesday and that most seemed receptive to the proposal.

About 100 people -- including parents, teachers, the Patterson neighborhood's City Council delegation and council President Mary Pat Clarke -- attended a meeting at the school last night to express opposition to privatizing it.

"Dr. Amprey is the highest-paid city employee at a salary of $125,000," said one of the 1st District council members, John L. Cain. "He gets paid that kind of money because we have said that education is our most important product. His job is to administer that system, not to farm it out to somebody else."

Dr. Amprey, who sent the southeast area's assistant superintendent, Oscar T. Jobe, to the meeting, praised Hyde's emphasis on discovering and nurturing each child's potential, and its belief that instilling character and discipline are prerequisites to education.

"The reason they're so appealing is they offer this idea of character education as the basis for educating kids," he said in an interview.

Hyde's plan would reach well beyond students, to teachers and parents.

Students would learn Hyde's motto -- "Courage, Integrity, Concern, Curiosity, Leadership" -- and principles -- "Humility, Conscience, Truth." They would help set academic and personal standards and an honor code. And, ultimately, they would run a class in a teacher's absence or decide on discipline for troublemakers.

The principal, teachers and their aides -- all chosen by Hyde -- would undergo intensive training, beginning with two weeks at Hyde.

Back in Baltimore, about 40 Hyde trainers would continue working with the staff for five years.

Parents would be invited to attend regular classes, seminars and retreats, where they would explore their behavior, values, goals and relationships. Groups of them would be invited to Hyde in Maine.

Patterson would be divided into a "preparatory school" and a "leadership school," both built on rigorous academic standards.

Hyde began running a New Haven, Conn., school for 100 public school students this year. Its school in Maine, originally designed for students who struggled with traditional academic programs,

now sends 97 percent of its graduates to college.

Baltimore already is experimenting with nontraditional school management. Education Alternatives Inc., a publicly held company based in Minnesota, manages nine city schools and has a more limited role at three others.

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