Creation of nonprofit schools suspended City schools chief says he wants to evaluate existing schools' progress

December 02, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore schools chief Robert Booker has temporarily suspended the creation of city public schools run by nonprofit organizations, saying he wants to evaluate the track record of the first nine.

In the past two years, the city school board has allowed nonprofit organizations to start four schools and take over five others. Neighborhood groups, churches and foundations have been involved in the effort.

"My recommendation to the board was that we not expand next year. While it looked promising, there still needs to be some additional evaluation," Booker said. He said he wants to see how well the schools score on statewide and national standardized tests in the spring before expanding the number of schools run by nonprofits.

Booker also wants to look at what it would cost the school system in the long term to continue adding such schools, which usually need intensive help in the first few years.

Parents who begin a school might have a lot of enthusiasm and energy, but not a lot of experience. They must get over a lot of hurdles, said Jo Ann Cason, interim director of the New Schools Initiative.

The four schools begun last year are Midtown Academy in Bolton Hill, New Song Academy in Sandtown, Harlem Park Academy on Edmondson Avenue and City Springs Elementary School in East Baltimore. Five schools were taken over this year.

The nine schools are following a national trend of offering parents a choice, usually in so-called charter schools. The nine Baltimore schools are the state's first privately run public schools that give students a free alternative to their neighborhood public school. The nonprofit organization running the school can choose the principal and staff, as well as the guiding philosophy.

Each school receives the same monetary allotment per pupil as a public school. Teachers and principals work under the same contracts as other city school staffs.

Booker's decision to slow down the process has not made everyone happy.

"We are very disappointed," said Diane Bieretz, one of a group of parents in Mount Washington attempting to start a small middle school as an alternative to Fallstaff Middle School.

"We would like a school in our neighborhood that uses new approaches to learning," Bieretz said.

The group had planned to start a school next fall, but now wants to start it in the fall of 2000.

Schools run by nonprofit organizations look promising. Attendance at the four new schools was slightly better than at other public schools -- an encouraging sign, Booker said.

Test results have been mixed, however. Students at City Springs, a public school that was taken over by the Baltimore Curriculum Project last year, scored at the city average.

The other two elementary schools -- Midtown Academy, created by parents, and New Song Academy, begun by an affiliated organization of New Song Community Church -- draw students as magnet schools and have had excellent test scores.

Third-grade students at Bolton Hill's Midtown, for instance, were reading a couple of months behind their peers at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year, they had gained 20 months of learning and were reading at nearly fifth-grade level, an increase described as "phenomenal" in an assessment performed by the school system.

Other grades in the school saw solid gains, at least as good as the average Baltimore public schools, the assessment said.

At New Song Academy, first-graders scored the fourth-best of any public school in the city.

Pub Date: 12/02/98

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