Barclay won't totally drop Calvert Principal says school will continue to use its books, lessons

March 04, 1996|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

While the much-heralded partnership between the city's Barclay School and the private Calvert School is to end after six years, the principal who fought to bring Calvert's curriculum to the public school says she's not about to abandon it now.

Barclay, said Principal Gertrude Williams, intends to keep using Calvert textbooks, supplies and detailed lesson plans stressing mastery of the basics.

One key ingredient, however, will be missing: direct Calvert School oversight, in which staff from the North Baltimore school visit Barclay regularly, closely monitor the progress of children and observe lessons. But Calvert has agreed to continue providing guidance and advice when asked.

Calvert, the North Baltimore private school, and Barclay, the elementary-middle school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood bordering Greenmount Avenue, agreed to sever formal ties about two weeks ago.

Leaders at both schools said the experiment, initially planned to run just four years, had built a solid enough foundation that direct Calvert oversight was no longer needed.

"We really have reached that point that we know what we need to do," Ms. Williams said. "We knew we had to take it over one day. But the kids will do the same thing. There will be no letup. Education will not suffer in any way."

Precise reasons for the split seemed to depend largely on who was asked -- and when. In an interview Friday, Ms. Williams blamed low test scores among Barclay third-graders on the controversial Maryland State Performance Assessment Program tests. MSPAP tests are designed to measure "higher-order thinking" that requires children to apply what they've learned in the classroom to real-life situations.

Barclay's curriculum, she said then, must be changed to better prepare children for the battery of tests. Calvert, though, has insisted from the beginning that its lesson plans, detailing precisely what students learn and when, would allow no such adjustments.

By yesterday, Ms. Williams backpedaled, saying MSPAP has little to do with the move, but that the school improvement team and the Calvert governing board agreed Barclay was ready to take over without Calvert oversight. A letter Barclay sent to parents made no mention of the MSPAP tests.

Calvert Headmaster Merrill S. Hall III also said it's time for Barclay to take the reins.

Mr. Hall said Calvert viewed the partnership as a success, and the formal parting a "natural evolution" and a "mutual decision" by the two schools. "You would figure we're not going to be at Barclay for the rest of our lives," Mr. Hall said. "It's really not our job to stay at these schools. It's really not our mission."

Largely free of the bureaucratic red tape and ever-changing decrees from school headquarters, Barclay had produced remarkable gains in performance on standardized tests, attendance and parental involvement using Calvert's strict, back-to-basics approach.

The partnership, whose initial $100,000-a-year cost had been financed entirely by the nonprofit Abell Foundation, has also focused national and even some international attention on Baltimore as media such as the New York Times, Reader's Digest, Economist, Education Week and ABC News reported on the school's success.

Sam Stringfield, the Johns Hopkins University researcher who has evaluated the reform effort each year, said he's confident the low third-grade MSPAP scores will rebound. The Calvert curriculum, stressing writing, should provide excellent preparation for the MSPAP tests, Dr. Stringfield said.

"I don't think that MSPAP or Calvert are in any way mutually exclusive," he said. "The MSPAP is basically a writing test, and those kids at Barclay are the best public school writers I have ever seen."

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, too, praised the Calvert curriculum and said it should prepare children well for MSPAP, perhaps with slight adjustments.

"Calvert and MSPAP can work together and can be harmonious, and Barclay doesn't have to abandon either Calvert or MSPAP," said Dr. Grasmick, who has consistently supported the Barclay-Calvert partnership.

The success of the experiment inspired expansion of the partnership to a second city school, Carter G. Woodson Elementary in Cherry Hill, and an effort to rewrite the entire city's curriculum for elementary schools.

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