BARCLAY SCHOOL sits on the site of the old Oriole Park, destroyed by fire July 4, 1944.
But there's still a lot of spectating going on in the 2900 block of Barclay St. Barclay may be the most famous public school in Maryland. As news of its successful partnership with the private Calvert School spreads well beyond Baltimore, Barclay has entertained a steady stream of educators and journalists in search of the magic bullet of school reform.
Thursday was no exception. Principal Gertrude Williams -- "Trudi," as everyone calls her -- had expected a delegation of 10 from Western Maryland's Allegany County. Forty-five, including several principals and the county superintendent, showed up in a bus, having set out in the snow well before dawn.
Then there was the ABC camera crew. Correspondent Alexander Johnson was "wired" with a body microphone, and so was Ms. Williams, a woman whose reputation far exceeds her stature -- a little over 4 feet.
There was Tracy Holland, a lovable first grader who stole the show with his enthusiasm and demonstration of cursive writing. (Tracy had seen all this hullabaloo before.) The ABC cameras were watching Tracy, while the Allegany visitors were watching ABC watch Tracy. Down the hall, third-grade teacher Paul Howard calmly tried to teach while 10 educators from Cumberland took notes and the ABC camera panned from face to face in his classroom.
Ms. Williams stood in the hallway and took it all in. "A typical day," she sighed.
Most of the visitors didn't realize that the afternoon before, Barclay had gotten some very bad news: After a half-decade of glowing evaluations, the school's third grade, with all 37 pupils participating in the crime, had performed poorly in the Maryland performance tests last spring. True, Barclay was still ahead of most other poverty-plagued city schools. And true, the fifth and eighth grades at Barclay did well on MSPAP last spring.
But those naughty third graders, now in the fourth grade, had pulled down the school's composite score, and insiders who knew about it were concerned. Bob Embry, whose Abell Foundation supports the Calvert-Barclay partnership financially, had already been on the phone, Ms. Williams said.
She could offer no explanation except that maybe the third graders had been "tired." They'd been testing for several days before they tackled the state performance tests, she said. State school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick dismissed the decline. When you're dealing with such a small sample, she said, test scores are "much more volatile."
At any rate, the North Avenue bureaucracy, always desperately in search of "good news" stories, held its collective breath, fearing that ABC, which knew about the Barclay performance on the state tests, would pull out. Network people thought about it, but they didn't. The segment, Tracy Holland, Paul Howard, Trudi Williams and all, is scheduled for airing on a weekend night before Christmas.
And what is the magic bullet ABC and Allegany came to see? I've watched several visitors come and go at Barclay, and I've always detected a vague disappointment. The Calvert curriculum, tested for most of a century, isn't magic. It isn't even experimental. (Nor is it a "rich man's curriculum," in the words of former Superintendent Richard C. Hunter. Dr. Hunter's resistance to the Calvert-Barclay initiative, an initiative that grew out of the Barclay neighborhood and made Ms. Williams a pariah at North Avenue, cost him his job.)
Rather, the Calvert approach is somewhat old-fashioned -- or at least traditional -- with its cursive writing, its insistence that students get a task right before they move on to a new one and its emphasis on homework. It is also specific. Calvert doesn't talk about vague "skills" students are supposed to learn. Rather, it specifies which skills will be learned and when they'll be learned.
This isn't a mystique; it's common sense. Students at Calvert and Barclay, and Carter Woodson, a second public school now in the partnership, keep their best work in folders and every month parents get a complete report. Parents are heavily involved; there's always a volunteer to greet a visitor on Barclay Street.
So what the ABC crew from Washington and the Allegany educators from Cumberland traveled to see in the gloom of Thursday morning was a public school trying to approach perfection while delivering a basic education. That's awfully hard to demonstrate in a few hours.
Calvert County school Superintendent William J. Moloney puts out an informative newsletter that often contains fascinating data.
December's edition is no exception. A paragraph shows that only about one in eight Marylanders is enrolled in a public school.
Calvert, a rapidly growing suburban district in Southern Maryland, has only 20 percent of its population in public schools. The state average is just under 15 percent. Baltimore County has just over 13 percent of its population in public instruction and Baltimore City just over 14 percent.
How could such a minuscule group cause such havoc when it snows?