City schools blueprint wins OK of state panel Unanimous approval by state education board called 'a giant step'

July 29, 1998|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

The Maryland State Board of Education moved Baltimore schools further toward reform yesterday by unanimously approving that system's master plan for improvement.

Required by legislation last year that created the city-state partnership overseeing the schools, the plan lays out strategies for improving student achievement and creating effective management for the 109,000-student system.

The plan spells out specific changes, such as a new reading curriculum for the coming school year, and sets broader goals through 2002.

'The right direction'

"For the first time in my generation in Maryland, I feel a sense of moving in the right direction in Baltimore City," said board member Philip S. Benzil.

Those sentiments were echoed by all the other board members, as well as state Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, who called it "an absolutely superlative effort. It does speak to the restructuring and reform of the entire school system."

The board's approval carries the stipulation that Baltimore schools submit an organizational chart of administrators to Grasmick and the board by Sept. 1. Grasmick said the schools' new chief executive. Robert Booker, had not had an opportunity to fill all those positions.

'Great hope for changes'

In his first meeting with the state board, Booker pledged not to "let anything stand in our way" in turning the plan into action.

"The coming years hold great hope for making changes in the lives of children in the city of Baltimore," he said.

Booker called the board's approval "a giant step" toward improving the schools. The master plan will be sent to the General Assembly for its consideration.

The city school board and school officials worked on the plan for several months before submitting it to the State Department of Education in March.

Since then, state and city officials have ironed out rough spots and worked to make the plan readable, hoping to increase the chances that school personnel will use it in day-to-day operations.

Parts of the plan have gone into effect.

Beginning this summer, for instance, teachers are being held accountable through a new evaluation system for how well their students learn. Accountability extends to principals as well; in the past year, more than 50 have been replaced.

As part of the plan, elementary schools this fall will begin using a phonics-based reading curriculum.

The plan also calls for a longer school day; smaller classes, particularly in kindergarten through third grades; a stricter discipline code; and safer, cleaner schools.

The vagueness of some of the goals caused board member Raymond V. "Buzz" Bartlett some concern.

"What gets measured gets fixed," he advised, pointing out that aiming simply to "increase" the percentage of certified teachers or "decrease" the number of competent principals leaving the system is not enough.

With success, a caution

School officials conceded that their goals were vague where they did not have enough data to set a percentage of increase or decrease -- a situation they hoped to remedy this year.

Board member Walter Sondheim Jr., who lauded the document as "a monumental piece of work," also issued a caution:

"Be careful so that it doesn't stand in the way of getting the basic job done. I'm particularly concerned about promising too much too soon.

"This cannot be done in a day."

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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