Panel OKs plan for city schools

State board puts emphasis on hiring certified teachers

May 26, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A sweeping plan to put more emphasis on getting certified teachers into Baltimore's 83 most troubled schools was approved yesterday by the Maryland State Board of Education.

The plan for improving the city's lowest-performing schools -- developed by city and state school administrators and the new Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners -- also calls for greater monitoring of instruction and more testing of students.

"I really believe the city school system has rolled its sleeves up to give these schools some help," said state board member Edward Andrews. "But there is an awful lot of work to be done."

The plan was presented to the state board yesterday as part of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, which requires state educators to identify failing schools. Such schools are eligible to be taken over by the state -- a process known as reconstitution.

Other school improvement steps that are part of the city's plan include ensuring that all middle schools have reading teachers, reducing class sizes in elementary schools, increasing training of high school teachers and putting a new math curriculum in place this summer for kindergarten through eighth grade. Many of the reforms will be implemented throughout the system, not just in the most troubled schools.

"The bar within the system was too low," said city school board President J. Tyson Tildon. "We cannot move for ward unless we say to people, `Get on board!' and this says that."

A critical part of the plan approved yesterday includes steps to reduce the number of noncertified teachers in the most-troubled schools.

"Our biggest problem is that one-third of our staff is not certified," said Jeffery Grotsky, a city schools area executive officer who oversees 19 reconstitution-eligible schools. "While some noncertified teachers are very good, they have not had the background, practice or experience of certified teachers."

In reconstitution-eligible schools, 29 percent of the teachers are noncertified, compared to 17 percent of the city's teaching staff.

The plan calls for the 83 reconstitution-eligible schools to have first priority at hiring all certified teachers, which has begun this spring, said Robert Booker, the city schools' chief executive officer.

The system also will limit staff movement in those schools, prohibiting certified teachers from transferring to other city schools unless there is a demonstrated need elsewhere, Booker said.

To help new teachers, the city will expand mentoring programs and offer three weeks of training this summer before classes begin.

At the two city high schools that were first named eligible to be taken over in 1994 -- Frederick Douglass and Patterson -- Booker announced a moratorium on hiring noncertified teachers.

"Frederick Douglass and Patterson remain major concerns," Booker said. "We have seen major improvements in climate at those two schools, but we have not seen a corresponding increase in student achievement and that troubles us."

To ensure that teachers are following the proper curriculum and are taking steps to improve instruction, the city's plan calls for greater monitoring of schools.

"The monitoring piece is crucial," said Betty Morgan, the city system's chief academic officer.

Morgan said the city will develop a set of tests -- tied to both state and city standards -- to ensure that students are learning at the proper pace.

"It's not fair to expect kids to read at the 10th-grade level when they can't," she said.

With Baltimore having 83 schools on the state's list -- almost half of the system's 180 schools -- city school administrators also were required to get state board approval of an overall improvement plan.

After approving that plan, the state board accepted the individual plans designed by 29 of the city's schools.

Schools named as candidates to be taken over must file plans with the state for how they plan to improve.

Other city schools are expected to present plans at next month's state board meeting.

The state has named 97 schools as being eligible for reconstitution, including 12 in Prince George's County and one each in Anne Arundel and Somerset counties.

No schools have been reconstituted in the six years that the state has been identifying failing schools.

Educators from the other three school systems with reconstitution-eligible schools are expected to present improvement plans to the board today.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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