Few headlines, several changes Headmaster: Except for a war on incivility and attention for anti-drugs action, Archibald R. Montgomery IV's tenure as leader of Gilman School has been quiet. But he has launched several programs.

The Education Beat

February 16, 1997|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

ARCHIBALD R. Montgomery IV, in his fifth year as headmaster of Gilman School, has made the headlines twice. In the fall of 1993, he declared a yearlong war on incivility, a move for which he was widely praised. He got more praise a year later when he moved quickly and publicly to expel three students in the wake of a police drug bust on the North Baltimore campus.

These days, Montgomery, 44, is presiding over the Gilman centennial, including a $15 million capital campaign. Part of that money will help build a $4.5 million lower school.

Montgomery was interviewed Wednesday in his office.

Gilman is often mentioned in the newspaper with adjectives like "elite" and "exclusive" attached. Is that a blessing or a burden?

We give out about $1 million a year in financial aid so that we won't be a school exclusively for the rich. In recent years, we've become a truly metropolitan school, drawing boys from every nook and cranny of the Baltimore metropolitan area.

But the folks who come here are self-selected in one way: They've made a serious commitment to pursuing a rigorous academic program. Every child, for example, takes Algebra 2 in his freshman year -- not the smart ones, not the particularly gifted, but every boy. We have expectations that they can do it, and they do do it. So that is a kind of a funny elite.

Your upper school tuition next year will be above $11,000. At one point do you reach the saturation point?

As I've said, we've tried to increase financial aid, but every time you raise tuition you knock more people into the financial aid pot. We don't want to be a place for the haves and the have-nots. We want the middle class here. We're trying to come closer to holding tuition increases to [increases in] the cost of living.

What changes have you made academically in your five years?

The academic infrastructure was here when I arrived. It was a wonderfully sound place with wonderfully sound leadership. I've made several mistakes I'm sure Reddy Finney [Redmond C. S. Finney, headmaster from 1968 to 1992] would have loved to save me from if he weren't so humble.

But there are a couple of areas I'm really pleased with. One is the Writing Center. The other is a new arts center. The whole third floor is turned over to the fine arts. And the adults we have teaching there and in the performing arts are Pied Pipers. The key to good education is powerful, alive adults taking the time to share their passions with kids.

You're literally a neighbor of one of the city's public schools, Roland Park Elementary/Middle. Do you have any views on the plight of urban education?

I should preface anything I say with the real self-consciousness I feel. Given all of our advantages, I shouldn't have any opinions at all. The public schools are laboring under financial and social constraints and regulations that don't affect us.

Part of the reason I'm concerned is purely selfish. I'm convinced that the public schools and the independent schools in the metropolitan area are in the same boat, and we will ultimately float or sink as the area's financial health is robust or declining. We still rely on tuition. If the metropolitan area isn't attracting jobs, the kind of jobs that will pay people the money to afford our tuition, then we don't have a clientele.

How do you feel about school choice and vouchers?

Again, I'm not the one to ask. But in the abstract, I kind of like the idea of families having more choices. That's appealing on its face, but it strikes me as something of a chimera.

If you're going to offer the school choices that a lot of people expect, you might wind up polarizing the haves and have-nots even more than they are now. Some students are going to be stuck in the unpopular schools, and those folks might be the people who need the most help. So I'm suspicious of the glee that seems to come with the idea of vouchers and school choice. I haven't seen anything to convince me they will have the salutary effects people say they will have.

Charter schools are a different story. I could get excited about that idea. It seems to take the best of the independent school model and transfer it to the public school.

In retrospect, how well do you think you handled the drug crisis in 1994?

You have doubts any time you make decisions that affect children's lives. I had plenty of moments of anguish over that situation, and any situation you anguish over is not black and white.

I think it was necessary to say that some things are never going to be tolerated at Gilman. Period. The drug problem and the drug culture can poison an institution. We can't have it. (Incidentally, any independent school person who says there's no drug problem on his campus is lying.)

Having said that, there was nothing more painful than separating students from the school. We're here to serve them. We care about them, and suddenly we're telling them they have to go. I can't think of a single good thing to say about that. If that's not an unhappy moment in the life of a school, then something's terribly wrong.

So we sent two messages, one intended. We said we won't tolerate drugs. But we also gave some people the impression we don't care about kids, and this just a year after I'd talked about the need for civility. The bottom line is I can't think of anything we could have done to avoid that impression short of not dealing with the problem.

Pub Date: 2/16/97

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