Embattled Northern principal to retire Controversial leader says she'll leave high school by Aug. 31

July 09, 1998|By Stephen Henderson | Stephen Henderson,SUN STAFF

After weeks of speculation that Alice Morgan Brown would be ousted from her job at Northern High School, the embattled principal told Baltimore school officials this week that she would retire.

Brown, who earned praise and criticism nationally when she suspended 1,200 students en masse last fall, confirmed yesterday that she will leave before school reopens Aug. 31. Brown said she has no immediate plans.

Asked whether her decision was negotiated to avoid being fired, Brown declined to comment and referred inquiries to her lawyer, former city solicitor George Russell. He also refused to comment.

Brown had been under fire since she issued the suspensions in November, and was rumored to be on a list of principals targeted for removal this spring. Two high-ranking school officials also said privately that they had been unhappy with Brown's performance -- unhappy enough to have her removed.

Publicly, though, school officials would only say this yesterday: "Alice determined, in consultation with others, that it was time for her to retire," said former interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller, who is serving in a temporary advisory role to new chief Robert Booker. "She chose to retire, and we're grateful for her commitment and dedication."

The search for Brown's replacement will begin immediately, Schiller said.

Brown's decision to retire ends a months-long debate over her role at the school.

When Brown issued the mass suspensions last fall, she was both hailed and harangued by pundits and talk-show hosts across the country. Some thought she was a get-tough disciplinarian; others saw her actions as the desperate flailings of an incompetent leader.

Locally, Schiller refused to support Brown's actions while two prominent black church groups threatened to protest if he reprimanded her in any way.

Brown, however, had changed Northern -- a violence-rocked school where Brown says kids "roamed the halls with 9 mm's" when she took over three years ago -- in dramatic ways. She created magnet programs with advanced academic courses and divided the school's 1,800 students into four manageable academies. She resurrected the school's sports teams and other extracurricular activities.

And after the mass suspensions, she revived the school's parent-teacher association and forged a partnership with WJZ-TV and Morgan State University to make further improvements in the school.

But the school was still far from perfect: Most students don't graduate or pass state academic competency tests, kids still roam the halls -- though in fewer numbers -- and some teachers complain of nightmarish organizational problems. On the first day of school last year, several teachers had no class lists or room assignments; one showed up to find his room stripped of all furniture.

"I just think we'd be a lot better off with a stronger leader," said one teacher yesterday, who asked not to be named. "Dr. Brown just couldn't get this school any further than it is."

Pub Date: 7/09/98

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