Troubled Baltimore schools poised for private leadership School board to vote on proposal Tuesday

March 05, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

Four Baltimore nonprofit groups would take control of as many as five low-performing city schools, according to a recommendation made this week to the new city school board.

As part of the New Schools Initiative -- a program that allows independent operation of publicly financed city schools -- Kennedy Krieger Institute, Coppin State College, Walbrook Maritime Academy and Woodbourne Center would bring resources and innovation to the troubled city schools in exchange for complete decision-making power.

If the recommendation is approved by the school board Tuesday, it would mark the first time since a failed early 1990s experiment with Education Alternatives Inc. that a significant number of city schools has been turned over to private management.

Seven schools participate in the New Schools Initiative program, which began last year and has attracted proposals from dozens of individuals and organizations. But only one participant -- City Springs Elementary in East Baltimore -- was an existing public school.

"I think nonprofits have a lot to gain from participating in this program," said Jo Ann Cason, interim director of the New Schools Advisory Board. "They're working with us because they understand that we're all in this together, we're all connected."

Cason and the advisory board chose the four nonprofit organizations from 11 applicants.

By tomorrow, the selected nonprofit groups will be matched with low-performing schools in the district, and the school board will vote Tuesday on the partnerships.

Cason is quick to point out that no specific schools have been chosen or approached, although some of the nonprofit groups submitted the names of schools they would like to manage. Cason also said that none of the organizations has made a written commitment.

"We still have a lot of details to work out, and the actual contracts to manage the schools won't be signed until about May 28," Cason said.

Time is short, though. The nonprofit groups would begin managing the schools in September.

The four groups have radically different ideas about remaking their schools.

Kennedy Krieger wants to manage one or more schools in the East Baltimore neighborhood that surrounds its facilities. It would work with Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition to bring parents and the community together to play an active role in the schools.

Coppin State would use the curriculum it has established in the Maryland Center for Thinking Studies as the basis for a curriculum. It stresses teaching children how to use and process information to make conclusions and decisions.

Walbrook Maritime Academy operates ROTC, police and fire academy programs at Walbrook and Dunbar high schools. Its proposal would combine the three into one school, but which school has not been decided.

Woodbourne Center Inc., which runs a day school for emotionally troubled students, would like to manage an elementary school and middle school with which it is involved. The schools would vTC adopt the Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge curricula promoted by the Abell Foundation-funded Baltimore Curriculum Project.

Pub Date: 3/05/98

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