City seeks help to run high school Morgan State asked about a partnership with Northern High

'We're not close to that'

Move comes in wake of 1,200 suspensions in last week's turmoil

November 26, 1997|By Liz Bowie and Mike Bowler | Liz Bowie and Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

In the aftermath of the suspension of 1,200 students at Baltimore's Northern High School, city school officials have approached Morgan State University about taking over management of the troubled high school.

Earl S. Richardson, president of Morgan State University, said he's been contacted by city school officials interested in forming a partnership to help run Northern.

But Richardson added, "We're not anywhere close to that. I'm not jumping. I'm listening."

Last night, Robert Schiller, interim CEO of the city's school system, confirmed the talks with Morgan. He said Morgan was among several institutions and corporations the school system is talking to about helping Northern.

FOR THE RECORD - The spelling of C. William Struever has been corrected for the archive database. See microfilm for original story.

"There are a number of corporate and nonprofit groups coming forward to offer their assistance," Schiller said. But he added, "We don't have anything to announce."

Morgan already has some ties to the school. Morgan students tutor at the school, a neighbor of Morgan's in Northeast Baltimore, and Patricia Morris, the dean of the school of education at Morgan, is a member of the city school board.

A Morgan-Northern High partnership could be accomplished under the terms of the Baltimore New Schools Initiative, under which four elementary schools opened this fall with independent management and public financing, sources said.

The so-called "new schools" are run by parents, teachers or community foundations or a combination, rather than the school board. A partnership between Morgan and Northern would be the first time a high school has been run by an institution other than the city schools administration.

The Johns Hopkins University also has been involved in reform efforts at several city high schools, offering technical support and advice with a federal grant Hopkins shares with Howard University in Washington. But Hopkins has no management responsibilities.

Richardson said Morgan needs "to know a whole lot" before agreeing to assume a management role at Northern High. Among the unanswered questions, Richardson said, are how such a partnership would be managed and financed, and when a change in management would take place.

The school board's interest comes after turmoil at Northern last week when the school's principal, Alice Morgan Brown, suspended 1,200 students who refused to return to their homerooms to pick up report cards.

Schiller was critical of the principal's actions, but said he has no plans to discipline Brown.

On Monday, representatives of the Clergy Coalition of Baltimore City expressed their support for Brown.

Northern has had problems since the first day of school, when students arrived and found their schedules incomplete and teachers without class lists.

Since then, there have been arrests for assaults, possession of a gun and drugs. One teacher, Mary Robinson, has said she is staying home because she feels unsafe after a student threatened to kill her.

But students, police and teachers say the worst problem may be that students hang around the halls while classes are in session, apparently ignoring demands by the principal to get into their classes. The problem is more severe at Northern than at any other of the city's comprehensive high schools, according to teachers and educators.

School board member Edward J. Brody said yesterday that there's plenty of responsibility to go around for the problems at Northern.

"The area executive officer, the board, the interim CEO -- we all share responsibility for what happened there," Brody said. "Everyone knew from the first day of school that something needed to be done, and nothing was done. What we have to do now is come together to figure out how to solve the problems so that the children there can reach their potential. That's the most important thing."

Another school board member, C. William Struever, said board members are concerned about the comprehensive high schools and are considering a variety of options, including having an institution become a partner for the management of the school -- one of the features of the New Schools Initiative.

Another option, he said, is dividing schools into smaller "academies," each with its own administration and academic emphasis. Patterson, Douglass and Lake Clifton-Eastern high schools all have experimented with the academy concept.

Of the four schools that opened this fall under the New Schools Initiative, one was an existing private school and two were new. The fourth is City Springs Elementary, an existing public school which is run by the Baltimore Curriculum Project, a nonprofit group largely funded by the Abell Foundation, a Baltimore philanthropic organization.

Each of the schools is partially funded by private groups or grants.

Any institution that takes control of a school is likely to come under intense public scrutiny as the state and new school board focus on whether schools are performing to standards. Richardson said "I don't want to do anything that would reflect adversely on Morgan."

"I'm in a listening mode," he said. "As [Ross] Perot said, I'm all ears."

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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