Shaking up Kenwood High

March 27, 1995

In ordering the teachers at troubled Kenwood High School to reapply for their jobs, Baltimore County education officials obviously are looking over their shoulders at a possible state takeover of the east county school.

Kenwood bears a number of unhappy distinctions that, all told, make it the jurisdiction's lowest-performing school by Maryland Department of Education standards. Attendance falls well short of even the satisfactory level. Last year's ninth-graders did poorly on tests of basic academic functions, while 11th-graders fared acceptably only in reading and writing. The dropout rate is high. So is the pregnancy rate among pupils at Kenwood, the only county school with an on-campus day care center for the children of students. Not coincidentally, the school's backdrop is an economically struggling area where the median household income is as much as 25 percent below the county average.

If any county school might be recertified by the state, Kenwood High is it. The pressures on county school officials are intensified by the likelihood that the state will look beyond Baltimore City for takeover candidates, to avoid the appearance of bias against the city system. Forcing the entire 80-member Kenwood faculty to reapply strikes some as heavy-handed. It would be a love tap, though, compared to a state takeover in which everyone from the principal to the custodian would be told to clear out and not come back.

That is the crisis situation county school officials clearly wish to prevent. Their action, justified under the difficult circumstances, should be viewed not as a way to hurt teachers but rather as a way to help Kenwood High. Most, if not all, of the teachers who really want to stay will probably be given that opportunity; the rest will be working at other schools next year. The idea is to rebuild the instructional staff with people who have the dedication and the willingness to do the job required to get Kenwood High moving in a better direction.

Meanwhile, county government officials should consider implementing programs aimed at easing the social ills that spill over into Kenwood's classrooms. The politicians, like the school officials, can't afford to ignore the recertification threat, lest they're embarrassed by a state takeover on their watch. More important, such efforts would be to the benefit of Kenwood's students and surrounding communities. Where Kenwood is concerned, a pro-active approach is the way to go, as in the decision to recast the teaching staff.

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