Encouraging beginning

The Education Beat

Improvement: After a year of chaos and one of semichaos, Northern High School shows definite signs of a good start for 1999-2000.

September 01, 1999|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

THE KEY TO a successful school is the quality of its leadership. You can read that in an education school textbook or go to Baltimore's Northern High School for a textbook example.

Here are condensed notes from the past three opening days at Northern:

Sept. 3, 1997. Chaos. Students wander in littered hallways. Dozens without class schedules. Outside, two punks on motorcycles ride up and down Pinewood Avenue. Administrative staff seems in a fog.

Aug. 31, 1998. Semichaos. New principal, Helena Nobles-Jones, in office for a month. Many students without schedules. No sign of an enforced dress code. Some students all but naked.

Aug. 30, 1999. Some confusion, caused by new computerized student tracking system. But Nobles-Jones firmly in control. She has scheduled ninth and 10th grades herself. Classes running normally. Dress code strictly enforced. Assistant principals have clearly defined tasks, appear to know what they're doing.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Northern High School becomes a place of academic excellence, but in its 34th year, it's off to an encouraging start.

Harford school chief tenures show a descending pattern

Harford County has had six school superintendents since 1915. Here are their tenures:

C. Milton Wright, 30 years.

Charles W. Willis, 25 years.

A. A. Roberty, 18 years.

Ray R. Keech, eight years.

Jeffery N. Grotsky, 20 months.

Jacqueline C. Haas, 16 months (and counting).

Sondheim's 3 suggestions for Md. educator of century

Walter Sondheim, the grand old civic leader of Baltimore, called the other day with three suggestions for Maryland educator of the century. They might surprise.

Sondheim's first nominee is Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland state schools superintendent since 1991. Grasmick isn't the architect of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, but she's its builder.

An extremely popular administrator who seems to be everywhere at once, Grasmick has such influence as she begins her ninth year that the job appears to be hers as long as she wants it. Last week, the State Board of Education extended her appointment for four years. (She refuses to work under contract.)

Sondheim's second suggestion is John H. Fischer, the Baltimore superintendent in the early 1950s who oversaw the desegregation of city schools a year before the Supreme Court's famous Brown decision.

"He's one of the few people I've known who thought of everything in terms of kids," said Sondheim.

Sondheim's third nominee? Marie Bauernschmidt -- "Mrs. B." to two generations of Baltimoreans -- who might have wielded as much influence over the city's civic and political affairs as any woman of the century.

For four decades until midcentury, Bauernschmidt, the wife of a beer baron, battled ceaselessly to improve the city's schools. She fought hammer and tongs against what she called the deplorable conditions of the schools, carrying her crusade to the school board, the City Council, the mayor, the governor and the courts.

Education wasn't Bauernschmidt's only passion. In 1925, she demanded that Mayor Howard W. Jackson resign or seek hospital treatment for a drinking problem. "I believe she made Howard Jackson stop drinking," Sondheim said.

The always-modest Sondheim would never nominate himself, so I will. Now 91, Sondheim was president of the school board under which Fischer served, and he is president of the state board under which Grasmick serves. He also was chairman of the state commission that launched a decade of school reform in Maryland in the late 1980s.

Nominations remain open.

No `John-boy' and `grits' for the Class of 2003

Most freshmen entering college this fall were born in 1981, the year President Ronald Reagan took office. Here, with thanks to the Chronicle of Higher Education, are a few things Beloit College in Wisconsin wants its faculty to know about members of the Class of 2003:

To them, John Lennon and John Belushi have always been dead.

They have never needed a prescription to buy ibuprofen.

They have never heard anyone say, "Book 'em, Danno," "Good night, John-boy" or "Kiss my grits" in prime time.

They have spent more than half their lives with Bart Simpson.

"Cats" has been on Broadway all their lives.

They don't think there is anything terribly futuristic about 2001, and were never concerned about 1984.

They have probably never dialed a phone or opened an icebox.

A woman has always been on the Supreme Court, and women have always been traveling into space.

They were born and grew up with Microsoft, IBM PCs, in-line skates, NutraSweet, fax machines, film on discs and unregulated quantities of commercial interruptions on television.

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