Amprey scraps takeover plan for Patterson

June 23, 1994|By Gary Gately and JoAnna Daemmrich | Gary Gately and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

Amid overwhelming opposition from parents and teachers, Baltimore Superintendent Walter G. Amprey last night abandoned plans to turn over troubled Patterson High to a Maine boarding school that stresses character-building, discipline and parental involvement.

At a news conference at school headquarters, Dr. Amprey said he nixed the plan to give the Hyde School of Bath, Maine, control of Patterson for five years, primarily because of budget constraints. The plan would have added at least $1.5 million a year to the city's cost of running the East Baltimore school, he said.

Dr. Amprey also acknowledged widespread resistance in recent weeks that has taken the form of protests, angry meetings and a student walkout.

"I'm real disappointed. I'm disappointed because we spent so much time and energy trying to pull this off," he said. "I'm disappointed because I think the concept would have worked with Patterson. I'm disappointed because we weren't able to convince people that that was the case."

The ultimate say over the fate of Patterson, a target of threatened state intervention in failing schools, remains with state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and the state school board.

Dr. Amprey's announcement came two days after Dr. Grasmick met with a group of parents, a teacher, a union representative and state Del. Anthony M. DiPietro Jr., D-Baltimore. Afterward, she called Dr. Amprey to discuss complaints among parents and students that they had been excluded from planning the Hyde proposal.

Now that Dr. Amprey has abandoned Hyde, the state could allow the city to submit a new plan aimed at reversing years of worsening student performance, attendance and dropout rates, said Ronald A. Peiffer, a state Department of Education spokesman. Or the state could move ahead with direct intervention, devising a plan in which it could rewrite the curriculum and decide staffing changes.

Parents and teachers are developing a school improvement plan to avert a state takeover.

"I would view this decision as very positive because it opens up some new opportunities for creative thinking about the reconstitution of Patterson," Mr. Peiffer said.

Opponents of the Hyde plan rejoiced upon learning of Dr. Amprey's decision.

Patterson PTA President Letty Herold, the mother of a 10th-grader and a leader in the fight against Hyde, exclaimed: "Yes! Thank God! It has been almost a 20-hour-a-day job for me [fighting the plan.]"

Reached at home, where she was planning the next strategy with a group of parents, Mrs. Herold, added: "Now, I hope they will listen to the parents and the teachers. We have a vested interest, and we know we can come up with a good plan."

Jon Jacobson, who heads the social studies department at Patterson, also expressed relief. He believes Patterson can solve its discipline problems and improve educational standards with the cooperation of teachers, parents and the community.

"The first choice has always been to let us solve the problems ourselves," he said. "We had a plan since October that no one seemed to look at. We have an absolutely terrific school that the school system has allowed to go downhill by its refusal to deal with all the discipline problems we had."

Loretta Johnson, co-president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said, "We're elated. It is a victory both for the teachers union and the parents. The parents don't need an outside company coming in to tell them how to raise their children."

Despite the community's concerns, some features of the Hyde plan were promising, Mr. Peiffer said. Among them were the strict discipline and the promise to shore up academic standards.

Hyde founder Joseph W. Gauld said last night that he understood the decision, harbored no bitterness and hopes to continue working with city officials in hopes of opening a new, smaller school eventually.

Speaking of the Patterson proposal, he said, "It all sort of happenedtoo fast for people to really have a chance to understand what this is all about. The educational system is breaking down all over the country. People recognize that, but they're not ready yet to make the changes that need to be made."

The superintendent's announcement capped a day marked by confusion among teachers and parents who repeatedly tried to find out the fate of their school and staffers' careers.

About 30 of them picketed outside and tried to enter the school for a scheduled meeting with Hyde officials. But school police refused to allow them inside, and they were later told the meeting was canceled.

Dr. Amprey said last night that he still hopes to proceed with a city plan to remove all 130 staff members at Patterson, then require them to compete for their jobs with applicants from inside and outside the district. Dr. Grasmick has said she supports the housecleaning -- the city's first plan aimed at averting state intervention -- but that it lacked details on how to improve the school, with an estimated 1,800 students.

Hyde's plan would have been a radical departure from traditional public education. Before they ever attended a class, all Patterson students would have gone 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 proposal, the latest effort by Baltimore school officials to look outside the city for help, would have been subject to approval from the school board and the Board of Estimates.

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