Sweeping changes mark return of 90,000 students to city schools From new uniforms to a new curriculum

September 05, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

With Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Superintendent Walter G. Amprey acting as crossing guards, Baltimore City yesterday welcomed students to a new year at schools in the midst of transition.

Some of the estimated 90,000 students arriving in schools on the first day found visible changes, such as new uniforms at Hamilton Middle and a new yellow bus service for the Federal Hill area.

At many more schools, sweeping reforms are under way. Nearly a third of the city's 183 schools are reorganizing or trying out new curricula this year.

The nine large neighborhood high schools have begun dividing into smaller, career-themed academies, with plans to link graduates to jobs in their communities.

For example, at Southwestern High, ninth-graders will be asked this year to choose from biotechnology, ROTC, general technologies and business administration studies.

As preparations continue, all city high schools will put extra emphasis on encouraging ninth-graders to stay in school, said Mary R. Nicholsonne, associate superintendent for instruction.

On their own are the 12 schools managed or assisted for the past three years by Education Alternatives Inc., the Minneapolis school management firm whose contract was ended in spring.

The school system assumed EAI's contracts to keep computers in those schools. Many of the schools will continue using practices learned from EAI, principals said.

"Teach me to fish and I can eat for a lifetime, that's what I've been saying about the experience," said Principal Wyatt Coger of Harlem Park Community School. His goal is to increase the number of students qualifying for gifted and talented programs this year.

Forty city schools are adopting new programs under state supervision, as part of the Maryland School Performance Program that orders improvements at low-performing schools. Each has charted a course for improving test scores and attendance.

"We are going to watch these schools closely this year, because now they have to accomplish what they have set out in plans approved by the state," said Arnita Hicks McArthur, interim school board president.

An increasing number of schools will place special education students in programs serving the broader student population, school officials said.

The move is one of the system's continuing efforts to meet the goals of a federal consent decree, which orders Baltimore to improve the services for students who have disabilities.

Six schools are testing a highly structured curriculum and new techniques for teaching phonics and reading. By next year, this Baltimore Curriculum Project will also be testing new lesson plans for math and other subjects. Ultimately, the project may produce a model that can be adopted by other schools.

These developments are taking place against a backdrop of political upheaval as the school system continues its long-running fight to win a budget increase from the state and defend itself against allegations of mismanagement.

The battle has consumed top administrators' time and attention. Even school system spokesmen are affected. They have been assigned a legal adviser, who monitored yesterday's back-to-school news conference, where the school chief pledged to put children first.

"We will not be distracted by all that's going on around us regarding the state and the city, and I am going to lead our effort to stay focused," Amprey said.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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