Restructuring considered for Northern High Principal meets parents about suspensions

no plans to fire, move her

November 22, 1997|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

Fallout from the mass suspension of nearly 1,200 students from Northern High School this week has prompted Baltimore school officials to consider a restructuring of the school's management.

There are no immediate plans to fire or transfer Principal Alice Morgan Brown, according to interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller. But school officials are exploring management options that might involve institutions outside the school system -- something that is already done in several district schools.

"We are in the first step of securing some sort of outside partnership to provide the support and changes necessary to help the school move forward," Schiller said. He would not elaborate, but said an announcement could be made Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Brown met yesterday with almost 100 parents to address what nearly everyone agreed was the most poignant question: What can be done to prevent this week's miscue from being repeated?

"We can sit here and blame everybody all night, but I think we all know what the problems are," Brown told the crowd gathered in the school's auditorium. She was backed at the meeting by more than a dozen staff and faculty at the school and by U.S. Rep.

Elijah E. Cummings of the 7th District.

"Now we just need to concentrate on how to fix them," Brown said.

Brown admitted during the meeting that she might have overreacted when she suspended nearly two-thirds of the school population after they boisterously defied her Monday.

"If I had to do it over again, I might do something else," she said.

Brown asked parents to commit to getting more involved in the school, its parent teacher association and its improvement team.

The crowd was a lot smaller than expected; all parents of the 1,200 suspended students were asked to attend. But Brown, who has been bombarded with protests and questions by angry parents and disrespectful students since she made her decision, chose to focus yesterday on what was going right.

"Even though you were asked to be here as the result of something negative, we're hoping to turn this whole thing into a positive situation."

Schiller, who did not attend the meeting, said yesterday he, too, hoped that it would help resuscitate the school.

"That meeting provided her with a great opportunity to bring parents in as partners in the process of restoring the environment we need at that school," Schiller said in a telephone interview. "And one of the most important things about it is that parents will be involved. The principal isn't alone in being responsible for the school's environment."

Schiller also defended the statements he made Thursday, in which he seemed to second-guess Brown's decision to suspend so many students. Some parents and others have suggested that his statements and the lack of an immediate decision on Brown's future as principal combined to give students a go-ahead for continued bad behavior.

Other options

"I couldn't stand up there and say I thought she handled the situation in the best way, because I don't," Schiller said of his comments Thursday. "The message I sent was that there were other options available to her. We've given her everything she needs in that school. An extra assistant principal. The private security firm. She has the authority to do what she needs to do to maintain order in the school. She has always had it."

During Brown's meeting with parents at the school, names were collected for the parent-teacher association and the school improvement team. Dates for the next meetings of both groups were announced, and beginning plans were laid for increased day-to-day parent involvement in the school.

One problem that Brown and the parents all agreed became evident during the past week was lack of communication -- both between Brown and her staff and between Brown and the school's parents.

"We know there's a communication problem. This whole thing demonstrated that more than anything else," Brown said.

Kyra Gilliam, whose daughter Destiny was among the suspended students this week, expressed interest in becoming Northern's PTA president during the meeting. But she also had harsh words for Brown over her daughter's punishment.

"Destiny followed my rules that day, which are when 2: 30 comes, you get yourself to the bus and get yourself home," Gilliam said. "Because if she hadn't done that, she would have been in trouble with me. If she missed that bus, she wouldn't have been home when I called to make sure she got there safely."

Parents responsible

Gilliam said that, despite the mix-up, she thinks parents are largely responsible for the problems in the school. Brown should not be removed, in her opinion.

"I don't see any reason for dismissing her. Everyone makes mistakes," Gilliam said.

Suzanne Gray, a counselor at Northern, said that to see what's wrong with the school, people need only look at the turnout for yesterday's meeting.

"How many kids were suspended? Twelve hundred. And how many parents do you see here right now? Only about 100. That speaks for itself," Gray said.

Pub Date: 11/22/97

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