The challenges facing city schools' new chief Booker: Baltimore's school boss needs to gain confidence of stakeholders through results.

July 06, 1998

AS Robert Booker assumes the duties of chief executive officer of Baltimore's public schools today, he faces urgent challenges.

Many city schools are still mired in failure, with students posting dismal scores on standardized achievement tests. Years of a crisis mentality have sapped morale, leading to lax discipline and lethargy. Perennial budget crunches, an inability to define a clear vision and failure to implement reform measures effectively have further eroded confidence in the schools.

And yet this bad news is not the whole story.

There are many bright spots, from students who succeed against all odds to teachers and administrators whose energy and creativity ensure that learning takes place. There is a growing demand for schools that work.

Most of all, there is a year-old partnership with the state that has given the city an energetic and engaged school board, a sense of optimism, some promising initiatives, $48 million in new state funds for the coming school year, and the potential for more aid increases.

Dr. Booker's mission is not impossible. He must build strong relationships with all stakeholders -- students, parents, teachers, administrators, support personnel, business leaders, neighborhood groups and public officials.

He must build a team of educators who know how to turn around failing schools. A strong chief academic officer is critical.

Dr. Booker's skills in financial management and administration will help enormously in devising better systems for closely monitoring enrollment and expenditures -- key shortcomings in the past.

For instance, the schools' inability to keep track of special education students and their remediation programs has delayed progress toward settling a class-action suit against the city. Likewise, the lack of accounting tools to stay on top of enrollment and expenditures has led state legislators to demand accountability before approving more aid.

Crisis brings opportunity. That is true for Dr. Booker and for everyone with a stake in turning around Baltimore City's public schools.

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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