Agreement reached on funding for Baraka School

City commits $108,000 to program in Kenya

July 27, 2000|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

A school in Kenya for at-risk Baltimore youth will remain open for at least another year under an agreement reached between the city school system and the nonprofit foundation that runs it.

The Baraka School, which had been threatened with closure because of funding problems, will reopen in September under the supervision of a new headmaster, said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, which established the school four years ago.

Embry said the school system has committed $108,000, or nearly $6,400 per pupil, for the coming school year - a substantial increase from the $1,800 the city had been contributing.

The additional money will allow the 17 boys enrolled in the school to complete the second half of the two-year program, an alternative educational and cultural experience for seventh- and eighth-graders who were struggling socially and academically.

More than 90 pupils, all of whom would otherwise attend city schools, have attended Baraka since its opening in 1996; the city has spent more than $160,000 supporting it.

Richard Kroll Jr. will serve as Baraka's new headmaster when classes resume in September. The former middle school teacher in Grosse Pointe, Mich., joins the school at a time of uncertainty.

Continued support needed

Situated on 150 acres about three hours north of Nairobi, Baraka will close next year if the city school system doesn't continue to provide the same level of support toward the $12,000 to $14,000 yearly tuition, Embry said.

"If they weren't [going to provide the funds], we would not continue," he said. "If they were, then we have to see how the camp is operating and what conditions the school system might place on us for that additional money."

Kate Walsh, formerly Baraka's executive director and a member of the school's board of trustees, said: "This is our year to see if it can work."

In addition to concerns about funding, the program suffered setbacks in the fall because of racial tension, a staff shakeup and pupil misbehavior. Nearly half the pupils were sent home early.

But parents of pupils enrolled there protested when the Abell Foundation decided earlier this year to close it. Last month, the city school board agreed to provide money to keep Baraka open for another year, though there was debate over how much.

Board member C. William Struever wanted to contribute as much as $6,000 per pupil, but board President J. Tyson Tildon said that amount was too high.

Though it is privately run, Baraka - the Swahili word for "blessing" - has always received public funds. The school board will have to decide on continued funding by January, when recruiting for the new school year would begin.

Board members have been invited to visit the school in the fall to see what the program offers.

"The school board has to decide quickly," said Walsh. "It's a matter of whether they want to make this investment."

Kroll, who could not be reached yesterday, visited the school in January. He had been seeking the top job for several years.

Parent's approval

One parent of a pupil enrolled at Baraka spoke favorably of Kroll after she talked to him recently, Embry said.

"She was very impressed and very moved by his attitude toward the kids," he said. "I think that Baraka is a tremendous good for these young men, really in many instances saves their lives, and there isn't any comparable alternative for them in the United States."

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