Back to the Drawing Board

June 24, 1994

The failed plan to have the Hyde School of Bath, Maine, take over Baltimore's educationally bankrupt Patterson High School fulfills one of Murphy's Laws: If things can go wrong, they will.

In Patterson's case, they could, and they did. City school officials failed to include all of the Patterson constituency in the initial planning for Hyde. They allowed a group of parents and teachers intent on maintaining the status quo to set the agenda. Hyde founder Joseph W. Gauld and the troupe of Hyde students he brought to perform at the school were treated with unbecoming rudeness. Mr. Gauld was never able to present his case for a radical overhaul and a different way of thinking about education. The State Department of Education, which is essentially the bankruptcy judge in the case, wasn't active enough in paving the way for Hyde, in part because the dispute over the program occurred before it was ever approved. And Hyde, for its part, badly underestimated the magnitude of the rescue job.

So when Superintendent Walter Amprey called the whole thing off Wednesday night, he was acting pre-emptively. State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick was likely to have rejected Hyde altogether or ordered major changes that Mr. Gauld might have found unacceptable.

The state won't be taking over Patterson any day soon. Instead, the city will get one more chance at the drawing board, perhaps this time with some lessons learned. Patterson is a complex school, half black and half white with a huge attendance zone and many troubled students. Parents, staff and students should be included in the planning this time, but not exclusively those who resist change. As Dr. Grasmick noted in April when she rejected Patterson's original scheme to replace the entire staff, the school needs to know what it will do once a new staff is in place.

It also needs a public relations strategy for building confidence in the plan among staff, students and parents.

Patterson needs outside help. If the state has the authority to take the school over, it also has the obligation to help it through the trying process of "reconstitution." And Dr. Amprey, understandably impatient as he tries to bring about reform in the system, needs to be more understanding -- and patient -- as Patterson moves through these troubled times.

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