Headquarters may become tribute to late official

Board asked to name it for Alice Pinderhughes

November 15, 1999|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

In heaven, Alice G. Pinderhughes may get the last laugh.

On earth in the 1980s, critics made fun of the Baltimore school superintendent for spending $14 million to turn one of the city's elite high schools into the school district's headquarters. They called it Alice's Palace.

Now, a group of her former colleagues is asking the school board to make it official: The central administration building on North Avenue should be named after Pinderhughes as a tribute to the first African-American female superintendent in Baltimore.

"She was a real champion for children and teachers," said Edmonia Yates, a 33-year veteran of city schools.

Pinderhughes, who died Nov. 17, 1995, was known for her communication skills and for building bridges with businesses, said Ruth Silverstone, a former school board member. "I always had a high respect for her ability to get along with the elected officials, the parents, the teachers."

But in July 1987, the talk was of how much it was costing to turn the old Polytechnic Institute into the headquarters for the central administration.

The renovations were the idea of City Hall, but Pinderhughes got much of the flak. She believed the public spaces in the headquarters should convey a sense of elegance that would give members of the public pride in the schools.

The offices where bureaucrats toil were far from grand.

But the renovation included a marble-tiled atrium that rose several stories, a $4,500 mahogany-topped desk for Pinderhughes, a $2,500 light-green, floral-patterned, wall-to-wall carpet in her office and $34,500 striped damask drapes for the school board room.

"We call it Alice's Palace and when she moves in there, she'll be Alice in Wonderland," said Frank Kober, spokesman for the Baltimore City Teachers Association at the time.

Despite his feelings in 1987, Kober, now associate dean of education at Coppin State College, says he would support naming the building after her. "I don't see any other superintendent who has surpassed her," he said.

Kober said one of her legacies -- she was superintendent from 1983 to 1988 -- was to redistribute power from the central office to the schools where principals and their staffs could decide everything from how to teach reading to how to spend the money they received.

School board member Patricia Morris sees the irony in naming the building after Pinderhughes, but she backs the idea. Seeing Pinderhughes' name on the building, she said, allows children to dream that they too might become leaders.

"The fact that there was a lady in Baltimore who walked the same streets they did, who shopped in the same stores they did and went to the same parks they did and that she could move up the ranks to become a leader, that is the message." Morris said. "It is fitting. It is proper."

The school board will not vote on the issue for several weeks. Several members said they are weighed down by school issues and have not thought about which way they would vote.

Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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