Plenty of ideas to reinvent schools 'Letters of intent' for Baltimore initiative include flying lessons

November 06, 1996|By Marilyn McCraven | Marilyn McCraven,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Kate Shatzkin contributed to this article.

By next fall, Baltimore City public school students may be able to attend a school run by the city Circuit Court, learn to fly airplanes and have an elementary and middle school exclusively for girls.

Those are among the ideas proposed by 71 institutions and individuals interested in operating a school under Baltimore's New Schools Initiative.

Their filings represent proposals for reinventing city schools with an emphasis on smaller class sizes, more parental involvement and dedicated teachers -- a movement with the potential for dramatically changing city schools.

The number of "letters of intent" from applicants expressing interest in starting schools surprised city school officials, but they think a much smaller number will submit bona fide plans.

"If we get this many actual proposals, we'd probably have to move our deadline" for naming the three to five such schools to open in September, said George Merrill, director of the New Schools Initiative.

Six to 10 such schools are to be opened by fall 1998, but Merrill said that number could grow depending on the volume of good proposals.

The new schools or community schools are similar to the popular charter schools, prized for offering greater choice and innovations. Typically, the nonprofit institutions use public money but are operated independently by parents, teachers or institutions.

Proposals for the schools are to be submitted by Nov. 15 and final selections are to be made by Jan. 15.

The New Schools Initiative stems from a 12-year-old court case requiring improvements to special education in Baltimore schools.

Priority will be given to proposals for schools that have been found to be out of compliance with special education requirements.

The 71 parties represent a broad cross-section, ranging from parents of young children to the Devon, Pa.-based Devereux Foundation, the nation's largest private, nonprofit provider of residential treatment for disabled and retarded children and adults.

Some nonprofit groups are considering schools that would help prepare students for specific careers. For example, students might learn to fly airplanes or drive 18-wheel trucks at a school being planned by the Maryland chapter of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, a professional association.

"The career opportunities are infinite. We want students to know that," said Rita Holmes, a spokeswoman for the group.

Baltimore Circuit Court plans to propose a school that would be in the basement of Courthouse East and would serve adult defendants in the alternative sentencing unit or on probation who have not completed high school, according to sources.

The goal would be to educate certain criminals so they don't end up back in the court system, sources said.

Barbara Davidson wants to open a school for elementary and middle school girls at Greenspring Middle School in Northwest Baltimore.

"When I polled girls [at Greenspring], they said the reason they get in trouble at school are the boys. That wouldn't happen at this school," said Davidson, a teacher for 30 years in city schools.

Some proponents aren't striving for major reforms but aim to ease crowding at some schools. That's the case with Molly Jackman, a Bolton Hill mother of two preschoolers, who says 39 kindergartners now compete for the attention of one teacher at her neighborhood school, Mount Royal Elementary.

Jackman's group of 30 parents is planning a school for kindergarten through third grade, to open next fall to serve Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill. It would concentrate on the responsibilities of citizenship.

Several church-related groups want to open schools, too. That's acceptable as long as they have a secular curriculum, Merrill said.

One such agency that intends to start a new school is WIN Team Services, which offers "a Bible-based mentoring program" for troubled youths, said Curtis L. DeVance, agency director.

WIN Team came under scrutiny in December for placing Jeffrey Clarke Weigel, then 19, in a Pimlico-area foster home where he was accused of raping and killing his foster mother's 5-year-old granddaughter, Latisha Dozier.

Weigel is to go on trial today.

"After that tragedy, we stopped handling" foster care placements, DeVance said.

Three of the 71 "letters of intent" came from one neighborhood group -- Ten Hills Community Association in West Baltimore.

"I filed one and two other women filed because they didn't know I had filed," said Diane Mountain, the group's organizer. "At least this way they know we're enthusiastic."

Proposed school charter groups

These organizations and individuals have expressed interest in establishing new charter schools in Baltimore:

Nadine J. Seeney, Achievement Inc., Columbia

Claude N. Larkins, African American Men on A Mission Inc.

Coois D. Patterson, American Friends Service Community

Walter E. Anderson, headmaster, Baltimore Actors' Theatre Conservatory

Ed Simermeyer, Baltimore American Indian Center

Muriel Berkeley, Baltimore Curriculum Project

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