No reply to lone voice in support of Amprey

September 10, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Yesterday morning on North Avenue, at the precise time and place Phillip A. Brown scheduled a news conference to defend the honor of Baltimore schools Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, and promised many supporters to make it look like some grand social movement was commencing on Amprey's behalf, here was Brown, and he was all alone.

He was standing outside school headquarters with a portable telephone in his hand, making one desperate call and then another. Nobody was answering.

"A little late getting started?" I asked.

"I guess people couldn't get away from work," he said. "You know how it is on Mondays."

It was now 15 minutes past his scheduled 10 o'clock starting time. Phillip A. Brown has run for a 3rd District City Council seat on a couple of occasions, without much notice. Also, according to the various court records and newspaper accounts of our time, he's faced charges of larceny, shoplifting and impersonating a police officer.

But now he had taken it upon himself to summon the various news outlets in town to declare that he has personally examined the contents of Walter Amprey's leadership, plus Amprey's recent courtroom troubles with his wife, and wished to declare publicly that this is the right man to lead the schools.

But this was not Brown's main problem at the moment, which was this matter of telephoning the various media outlets and promising important demonstrating and social outrage, and nothing at all was happening.

"Everybody has personal problems," Brown said, putting aside his portable phone. "The president of the United States has personal problems, but it doesn't have anything to do with his professional life. My first marriage, my wife charged me with some things, but they weren't true, see? Let Dr. Amprey and his wife work things out, and let him do his work."

Now a television photographer showed up, asking about the promised demonstration. Brown said things were running a little late. The television man put down his camera and glanced both ways on North Avenue. Nobody seemed to be showing up.

Not even anybody from the big building behind Brown, which houses the huge, complex, fumbling bureaucracy of the city schools, plus the office of Dr. Amprey himself. Nobody ventured out of the building. The latest dismal news out of this place, which accompanies the news about kids who don't learn, and schools that lack money, and politicians fighting for control, is this matter about Amprey, father figure to 90,000 schoolchildren, champion of anti-violence and character education programs, being charged with abusing his wife.

"He's done a good job with the schools," Brown said, glancing down at a letter he was sending to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, defending Amprey. Now Brown looked up and saw three people walking on North Avenue toward school headquarters. The wheels began to turn in his head.

"Your supporters?" I asked.

"No," Brown said, "but I'll use 'em if I have to."

He walked several quick yards and caught up with the three people. One was a woman in a sweat shirt that read "Jesus You Did It All For Me." Another was a young woman carrying a baby. They said they didn't know about the Amprey troubles. Brown explained a little about the domestic charge and asked if they would show support for Amprey for the TV camera.

"Did you just meet these people?" the TV guy asked him now.

"Well, they're citizens," said Brown.

I walked across North Avenue to forget the whole thing. If this was a glance at Walter Amprey's public support, then he's in bigger trouble than previously imagined. But maybe for the wrong reasons. Yes, it's a terrible charge he faces from his wife. But these schools of his are a terrible wound in the body of this city, and this is the real indictment.

Across North Avenue, four neighborhood folks sat on the front steps of a boarded-up rowhouse. A woman, Pauline Chase, 32, said she has five school-age children.

"Look at that big building," a man said, pointing to school headquarters, "and they can't get these children to learn nothing."

"Some children don't want to learn nothing," said Chase. She said four of her children went to school, but not the oldest, who is 14.

"And she's six months pregnant," said Chase. "I can't get her to go to school. I chased her down the street and she won't go. She told me she was going to the bathroom and she climbed out the back window. How do you make this kind of a child go to school?"

Nobody seems to know, including those who are paid to know. Nobody said Walter Amprey's job would be easy. Huge numbers of children avoid school each day, and huge numbers more drop out. Some who show up seem to pay attention only sporadically. The reading and math scores document this over the past quarter-century.

Amprey knew this coming in and declared that the children needed love and pats on the head, and that things would begin to turn around. Despite glimmers of hope, the schools are still a daily tragedy.

Now Amprey has added to his troubles with this domestic charge. On North Avenue yesterday, he had this Phillip A. Brown trying to rally support for him, but Brown was standing there like the most isolated man on the face of the Earth.

If you don't count Walter Amprey.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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