Patterson students walk out

June 08, 1994|By Melody Simmons and Gary Gately | Melody Simmons and Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writers

After a student walkout at Patterson High yesterday, city school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey called on administrators, teachers and students to use "flexibility and compromise" in reviewing his plan to bring a Maine boarding school's character-building curriculum to East Baltimore next year.

Nearly 400 students walked out of class yesterday at 9:35 a.m. to protest a proposal that the private Hyde School be given management responsibility for Patterson. The state Board of Education, which must approve the five-year Hyde proposal, is expected to consider it this week.

After learning of the student walkout, Dr. Amprey left a meeting with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to talk with a delegation of 100 students.

Dr. Amprey urged the students to have an open mind about Hyde, adding that change must come at Patterson, which state education officials targeted for a possible takeover based on years of worsening academic performance, dropout rates and attendance.

"Certainly there is a resistance to change," Mr. Amprey said after his meeting with the students. "But they also need to understand how to address the change. Flexibility and compromise are very important points."

Hyde's program stresses "character-building" through performing arts, athletics, community service and heavy doses of values for children and parents.

Along with more traditional grades, students would be evaluated based on "growth" -- an assessment of their attitude and effort. Students also would be classified throughout the year in four categories ranging from "excellence" to "off-track" -- those identified by teachers and fellow students for, say, poor attendance or lack of effort.

Yesterday's walkout followed a contentious meeting Monday night at Patterson during which students from Hyde's Maine campus and from a public school Hyde runs in New Haven, Conn., performed.

During a question-and-answer session after the dances, music, song and accounts of Hyde, the audience erupted. Patterson parents and students booed, shouted and cursed as Hyde founder Joseph W. Gauld and Hyde students spoke.

Sitting at the edge of the stage in the school's sweltering auditorium, Hyde students were bombarded with shouts of "brainwashing," "liars" and "mind control."

"I do not understand what dancing has to do with education and the children's minds -- nothing," Susan Lund, the parent of a 10th-grader, said at Monday's meeting.

That sentiment carried over into the walkout. Some students carried a banner, written on the flip side of a classroom map of Paris, reading, "Patterson High, Not Patterson Hyde!" while others chanted "No Hyde for Patterson. Save Our Hide!"

"We don't want to dance and sing in front of anybody," said Cathy Branagan, a 14-year-old freshman. "We're here for an education."

Maria Forakis, a junior and a member of Patterson's student government association, said, "We are united right now as Patterson High School, and we are going to City Hall."

Many students said they were up set because a Hyde representative told them they would not receive certificates from the Hyde School, not diplomas, upon graduating. "I didn't go to school my entire life just to get a certificate," said Kelley Huemmer, an 18-year-old junior.

Patterson Principal Leon Tillett Jr. used a bullhorn to address the students, who cheered as truckers drove by, honking their horns in support.

"I'm aware of the frustration that you felt in getting answers from the Hyde Foundation," he said. "What I'm hearing you say is that Hyde's not listening. We are not a school in New England. We are a school in East Baltimore."

Stacy Woodward, a junior who attended yesterday's meeting with Dr. Amprey, said the superintendent challenged students to draft their own plan for Patterson.

"Some of us were satisfied; some of us weren't," she said of the meeting with Dr. Amprey. "There are a lot more questions that need to be answered."

If the plan is approved, Patterson's principal, teachers and their aides -- all to be chosen by Hyde -- would have to undergo intensive training, beginning with two weeks at Hyde's campus in Bath, Maine.

Baltimore also is negotiating a less-extensive role for Hyde at Pimlico Middle School.

There, under a proposal, Hyde would begin training teachers and working with students in the fall. It would expand Pimlico to grade 12, take over management and select staff members, and bring its full program to the school the following year.

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