Residents upset as state nears school takeover

March 16, 2000|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Gwendolyn Wright, vice principal of Furman L. Templeton Elementary School in West Baltimore, assumes that Maryland will take over her school when the State Board of Education meets next week.

Test scores at the Pennsylvania Avenue school are among the lowest in the state, and, since the school was put on notice five years ago, there has been virtually no improvement.

Still, change for the sake of change is not the answer, Wright said last night at Templeton, where parents, teachers and community members met with state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

"This school needs change," said Wright, as parents tried to draw Grasmick into arguments inside the auditorium. "But no one has figured out what kind of change it needs."

Templeton -- along with Gilmor Elementary School, also on the west side, and Montebello Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore -- is to be turned over to the care of a private company yet to be selected. The two companies vying for the job are Edison School Inc. and Mosaica Eduction Inc., both with headquarters in New York City. Edison manages 79 schools in 16 states. Mosaica has eight in Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

"The state takeover is nothing more than a means of selling our children to the lowest bidder," said Shirldine Wise, a parent at Templeton.

Grasmick, raising hackles and heckles by saying that the community could not meet with officials of the management company until the deal is signed, repeatedly told the crowd that stricter academic standards would only help children who are now being lost.

"This must remain a community school for the children who live here," Grasmick said. "And whoever gets the job will have to deliver or we won't continue with them."

When parents tried to persuade Grasmick that the needs of students are different in a neighborhood beset by poverty, drugs and violence, the school chief replied that private management has worked well in an inner-city Washington school much like Templeton in demographics.

"We have to try," Grasmick said.

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