Kenwood students protest staff plan

March 25, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Chanting "Save our teachers," several hundred students streamed out of Kenwood High School yesterday morning to show support for their faculty and opposition to a plan that would require all teachers who want to stay at Kenwood next year to reapply for their jobs.

After first period, students milled about in the school, then took their demonstration onto the lawn.

Baltimore County police were posted at driveways and along Stemmers Run Road beside the school. No confrontations occurred.

School administrators stayed in the background, letting the students sing, chant, yell at motorists and talk to reporters. Principal Frederick W. Cogswell intervened only once when he asked a parent whom he thought was inciting the students to leave the grounds. The man complied.

"They are blaming the teachers for society's problems," said senior class Vice President Bobbie Haas, whose blue sweat shirt bore the message: "Our teachers, our future."

DTC School officials have said that the "zero-based" staffing plan, which requires teachers to request a transfer or reapply and be selected for jobs they already hold, is part of a strategy to improve instruction at the eastern Baltimore County school.

Kenwood, which serves economically stressed Essex and Middle River, has had poor attendance and low test scores.

School officials said they intend to stand by their plan, despite the Kenwood uproar and a union resolution denouncing the process.

"The problem is, the principal is concentrating on a few bad points," said Greg Brooks, one of several parents who watched the walkout.

"Zero-based staffing will not work. What we are going to have left is the teachers that we really want to leave."

Senior Jennifer Leaf said there are teachers she doesn't like, but "I don't think any teacher deserves this."

She added, "If it takes all day to get our point across, we're willing to stay."

An hour into the demonstration, Dr. Stephen Jones, the northeast area superintendent, arrived and talked to senior class representatives, who then quieted the crowd.

"There will be no suspensions, no nothing, we've been assured," senior class treasurer Shane Sowa told the group.

"Everybody, listen, if I can get a meeting in the gym, can I have your promise that it will be an organized meeting, not a rampage?"

The group agreed, and as quickly as they had come out, the

students disappeared back into the school. Reporters were stopped by police at every driveway and were not allowed on school grounds.

In addition to expressing concern about their teachers, students criticized the media and their own administrators for concentrating on Kenwood's problems rather than its strengths.

Many students also said they disliked Mr. Cogswell, whom they described as a distant administrator who spends too much time in his office and not enough in the halls or at school activities.

"We wouldn't have these problems if we had more contact with Cogswell," Ms. Sowa said.

While the demonstrators were cavorting about the school grounds, the other two-thirds of Kenwood's students were in class, said Dr. Jones. By early afternoon, the school was quiet and back on schedule, he said.

He will meet with the faculty and student representatives in separate meetings Tuesday, and has asked Mr. Cogswell to set up a parent meeting. "We will give them an opportunity to air their concerns," he said.

Dr. Jones and Superintendent Stuart Berger continued to support zero-based staffing and other changes for Kenwood.

"I support Mr. Cogswell all the way. No one is remotely suggesting that it's the teachers' fault," Dr. Berger said of Kenwood's poor performance. "All I know is that we need to find a way to do better."

But Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, has called zero-based staffing intimidation. TABCO's board of directors passed a resolution yesterday opposing the strategy as "professionally insulting to teachers."

"It is TABCO's belief that Baltimore County principals are using zero-based staffing as a means to coerce teachers to agree with their education philosophy rather than allowing faculties to work with principals," the statement said.

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