Parents hear plan to turn Walbrook High into magnet school

May 07, 1998|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Dozens of concerned parents gathered at Walbrook High School last night to hear details of a proposal that would substantially change the nature of the West Baltimore school.

Walbrook would be transformed from a neighborhood school into a citywide magnet school with four academies targeting police, fire, business and maritime studies. The change would be implemented in September if a plan to boost achievement at the school is approved by the city school board.

"Obviously, there are big changes in store," Calaway Baxter, Walbrook's PTO president, told the group that also included faculty and students. "It is up to us to make sure those changes are beneficial to our students."

With a new identity as the Uniform Services Academy at Walbrook, the school would form a partnership with the city police and fire departments and the Rouse Co. in a nonprofit venture that organizers say would infuse hundreds of thousands of dollars and increased opportunities there.

While Walbrook High's dropout rate, attendance and functional test scores have improved in recent years, the school, with about 1,350 students, falls short of state standards, school administrators said.

"We can't wait 10 years," said Ellen Gonzalez, an area schools superintendent. "We need to make dramatic changes."

Col. Alvin A. Winkler, chief of the city Police Department's Youth Bureau, told parents that teen-agers now at the school could remain if they chose. Older students could continue with their regular studies until they graduated, he assured them. But incoming ninth-graders would be required to choose an academy.

Walbrook is home to smaller criminal justice, business and maritime academies. Those programs would be enlarged and improved with additional resources, Winkler said. A Fire and Emergency Services Academy at Dunbar High School would be moved to Walbrook.

Winkler painted a picture of students learning lifelong career and academic skills, wearing uniforms or appropriate attire to school and engaging in "old-fashioned manners."

Still, many parents expressed concern about middle school students who might not have the basics to succeed in such programs.

"What are you going to do with those kids? Where would they go?" asked Jacqueline Barber-El, mother of two students at Walbrook.

Winkler promised that extensive tutoring would be offered.

The proposal for the academies has been approved by a committee overseeing new schools initiatives. The plan needs approval by the school board in the next several weeks for the changes to be in place by September.

"Sometimes change is difficult," said parent Linda Robinson. "You can't always judge in the beginning of things."

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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