School-based ways yield to top-down style in city Management: With new chief executive officer Robert Booker in control, major instructional decisions for the system will come from the North Avenue headquarters.

The Education Beat

September 02, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

BEHOLD THE recentralization of the city school system.

They started breaking it up a quarter-century ago, when Superintendent Roland N. Patterson carved the system into nine administrative units. Decentralization reached its peak during the six-year tenure in the 1990s of Walter G. Amprey, who achieved some measure of local control with "school-based management."

But Robert Booker, the new chief executive officer, is making it quite clear that he's the boss, thank you, and that each of the 182 city schools simply cannot go off half-cocked with its own instructional program.

Here's the evidence that Booker, with help from the school board and interim schools chief Robert E. Schiller, is reviving top-down management:

North Avenue headquarters has dictated a uniform reading curriculum in the city's elementary schools. Until this fall, reading instruction, perhaps a school system's most important function, was a disgraceful hodgepodge. In a city where as many as 30 percent of students change schools yearly, a uniform curriculum is a necessity.

Booker has a managerial, not an educational, background. When the school board increased the number of regions in the city from seven to nine, Booker noted that the move would decrease the "span of control" of each region from 30 to 20 schools.

Booker says he wants regional administrators and principals to be in the classrooms, watching what's going on. Gone, apparently, are the days when teachers could close their doors and free-lance.

Ten principals were demoted this fall. That's not a huge number, but the demotions -- and the rare importing of outsiders like Northern High School's Helena Nobles-Jones, fresh from Washington, delivers a message to a corps of principals mostly home-grown.

Amprey was an experimenter. Booker is the opposite. Amprey staged yearly exhibitions at the Convention Center to showcase the dozens of "programs" in city schools, often several in the same school. Booker speaks publicly against experimentation.

"We just can't be always trying out new programs, and then dropping them in a couple of years in favor of something else," he said the other day.

The school improvement teams no doubt will stay in place, and decisions will continued to be made at the school level about such things as janitorial services. But major instructional decisions will come from North Avenue.

And why not? A system that Booker and Schiller have described as "dysfunctional" has to have decisive leadership at the top, has to have people to enforce accountability in the classroom.

Top-down management is a requisite in a system that has nowhere to go but up.

Ex-Calvert education chief completes first year in Colo.

William Moloney, the outspoken former superintendent of schools in Calvert County, is completing his first year as commissioner of education in Colorado this week.

By telephone recently, Moloney said Colorado and Maryland are "wrestling with a lot of the same problems." Both states have performance tests, although Colorado's is just getting off the ground, while the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program is five years old.

"The greatest value of both our tests is that they're rigorous, and most kids are flunking," said Moloney, an admirer of his Maryland counterpart, Nancy S. Grasmick.

"Nothing will change public education save a steady diet of bad news."

Lecture series will focus on 'Treasures of Yiddish'

If you've been called a "schlemiel" or a "mensch" and wanted to know more about their etymology, Baltimore Hebrew University has a series of courses, lectures and events this fall on Yiddish.

Miriam Isaacs, an expert on the language and its rich tradition in Baltimore, will deliver a four-session Sunday afternoon lecture series titled "Treasures of Yiddish."

"The hourglass on Yiddish is running low," said Isaacs. "The generation that spoke it natively -- the immigrants, the Holocaust survivors -- are now in their 70s and 80s, and the cumulative knowledge of what can be passed on in what was largely an oral tradition is disappearing."

State Normal School No. 2 to celebrate its centennial

It was chartered in 1898 and opened in 1902 as State Normal School No. 2, a two-year school for training young men and women to be teachers.

Three name changes later, Frostburg State University is celebrating its centennial this fall.

Pub Date: 9/02/98

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