City school plan making progress Grasmick praises it, will seek formal approval

April 05, 1996|By Jean Thompson and John Rivera | Jean Thompson and John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's proposal for overhauling instruction at 35 troubled schools is expected to clear a major hurdle today when it comes up for review before the state school board, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday.

The master plan identifying problems and possible solutions at each of the schools won praise yesterday from state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who confirmed she will seek formal approval today.

Hailing this development as a sign of improved relations between city and state educators, Mr. Schmoke called the action "a positive step forward ."

Last year, the city initially fought the designation of some of its schools as eligible for the state reform program, which requires restructuring aimed at improving scores on state exams and school attendance. The city could lose control of any schools that fail to improve under the program.

This year, the state school board ordered four city high schools, four middle schools and 27 elementary schools to improve because of their poor scores on last spring's Maryland School Performance Assessment tests. The state already is overseeing the city's restructuring efforts at five other schools previously put on the reform list.

Patricia E. Newby, deputy superintendent of schools, said the master plan calls for improved staff training and better use of computer technology in teaching at all levels.

High schools will be divided into smaller academies, as has been successful at Patterson High School, one of the first schools to participate in the state-ordered reforms, she said. At middle schools, she said, teaching methods will be changed to substitute hands-on activities for lecturing. At elementary schools, emphasis will be placed on curriculum and on providing needed help for teachers.

While reveling in the good news, Mr. Schmoke also noted his concerns about how he'll pay for first-year changes needed at so many schools.

This week, state lawmakers allocated $7 million in the 1997 budget for the 35 schools, but made the release of that money contingent on the city's participation in a proposed restructuring of school-system management.

The lawmakers' decision to temporarily withhold these funds -- part of $22 million tied to his decision whether to enter a proposed city-state school-management "partnership" -- puts the school system in an awkward budgeting position, Mr. Schmoke said.

"We basically take a little bit of a risk," he said. "The only way that we can plan is on the assumption that we ultimately are going to get this money, because, if we do the opposite, then we'll have to start cutting services right now.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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