Stadium School upturn

September 07, 1994|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,Sun Staff Writer

Less than a week after Baltimore's school board ruled out opening a new school inside Memorial Stadium, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said last night that decision had "disappointed" him, and he pledged to work to house the Stadium School in the ballpark.

But he said the decision ultimately would be left to the school board, which is appointed by the mayor, and cautioned that the cost of necessary repairs still could eliminate the possibility of putting the neighborhood school inside the stadium.

"I'm simply willing to work as best as I can to get the Stadium School back in the stadium," Dr. Amprey told more than 125 parents, teachers and students gathered inside the ballpark.

"I'm willing to try to find out if there's some kind of way that this site can be used as quickly as possible for your school," he said. "I understand, in talking with you, how important it is for the program to be in this area."

When questioned by parents and teachers, Dr. Amprey acknowledged that he had not seen city estimates for specific repairs said to be necessary to bring the site into compliance with building and safety codes for schools. Stadium School organizers, who have brought in their own inspectors, call the $400,000 estimate for necessary work grossly exaggerated.

Parents and Stadium School organizers -- who fought more than two years for the city's first school to be conceived and run primarily by teachers and parents but paid for by taxpayers -- remained skeptical last night. They said the city school system and board had repeatedly broken promises, most recently when the board decided Friday to bus the 80 students four miles to space inside Northern Parkway Junior High for the 1994-1995 school year.

The board said it based its decision on city projections that it would cost some $400,000, three times original estimates, to make repairs necessary to meet building and safety codes for the stadium.

Phillip H. Farfel, the school board president, said last night that Dr. Amprey had not talked to him about reconsidering the stadium site and that the superintendent's comments took him by surprise.

"I don't see where anything has changed within the last few days," Dr. Farfel said. "We set out a plan as an alternative. I don't see what's changed."

But, he added, "If there's new information, if there's something that's there to review, as a board we'll do it."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, though his spokesman, expressed support for the Stadium School and said he's confident its organizers and the school board would resolve differences.

The spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, said the mayor would not "overrule the school board but if there is new information zTC available, that obviously may be a different issue."

In that case, Mr. Coleman said, Dr. Amprey and the school board "would revisit the issue."

Debra Evans, co-director of the Stadium School's governing board, shared the sentiments of many parents and teachers, weary of on-again, off-again commitments and finger-pointing.

"We've heard all this before," she said, "when everybody's putting the blame on someone else. I hope we don't become like the little puppies you see chasing their tales."

Councilman Carl Stokes, a 2nd District Democrat who attended last night's meeting, also sharply criticized the superintendent and the school board. "They've been lying to this community for the better part of two years," said Mr. Stokes, chairman of the council's Education and Human Resources Committee. "This is parents and teachers willing to do something that is bereft of all the bureaucracy of Baltimore City Public Schools."

The board and superintendent have resisted the Stadium School, he said, because "they are afraid that it will work, and because they know it will work without their hand in it."

The school's leaders said Dr. Amprey had repeatedly told them he hoped to send the children to Northern Parkway for only a few months. The former junior high in Northeast Baltimore is a school system professional development center and is being used this year to house students from nearby Hamilton Elementary-Middle School during renovations.

As late as last week, Stadium School leaders said, Dr. Amprey had told them the school system planned to provide portable classrooms across the street from the stadium, in the old Eastern High School parking lot, while the city looked at the feasibility of opening the school inside the stadium.

Stadium School supporters said a neighborhood location within walking distance is critical to their unusual curriculum, which stresses the environment, community involvement and intensive parent participation, as well as reading, writing, math, science and social studies.

The Stadium School is to be governed by a board composed of teachers, parents and community members and be operated at a cost of about $400,000 a year. It will initially begin with fourth to ninth grades, then expand to other grades.

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