Annapolis' 12 schools expect to receive $1 million from state for challenge grants

Funds are sought to aid the city's feeder system

April 03, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Weary of watching schools in Annapolis struggle to match up academically with those in the surrounding, more affluent suburbs, local politicians and educators hatched an idea to help the have-nots to keep up.

For several months, they have talked about putting extra resources into the 12 schools in the Annapolis feeder system - nine elementaries, two middles and Annapolis High School - to pay for smaller classes, more intensive reading programs, whatever the schools could show they needed to improve.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening heard their pleas - and, last week, made $1 million for Annapolis school challenge grants part of a $157.8 million supplement to the $21 billion budget the legislature was expected to approve last night.

"It's just an opportunity to get more resources in the Annapolis area schools, which lag in comparison to their suburban counterparts," said Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat.

The program would be the first in the state to focus grants on one feeder system in a county.

Annapolis has six of the eight poorest elementary schools in Anne Arundel County, based on the number of children receiving federally subsidized lunches.

Most of the schools have high clusters of minorities and a new influx of Hispanic pupils, many who don't speak or read English when they arrive. The middle and high schools are underenrolled, with many parents sending their children to private schools. And scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program are sluggish when compared to neighboring feeder systems.

"We do believe we have significant needs, and this would help close the gap somewhat," said Roy Skiles, a school system director of instruction who oversees the Annapolis schools.

The money would be a start. The funds would be for a one year, but officials said they hope more money could follow.

"You divide $1 million by 12 schools and, while it's certainly very much appreciated, the need is pretty great," Skiles said.

Busch said he, state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, Anne Arundel Superintendent Carol S. Parham, County Executive Janet S. Owens and other delegates and school board members lobbied the governor.

The $1 million would be allocated to the Maryland State Department of Education, which would direct the funds to the Annapolis schools. To receive money, the schools would have to complete grant applications showing how they would use it, what research they are basing their request on and what measurable goals they hope to achieve.

"There's a significant amount of work to be done just to access the money, but for $1 million, we'll do a lot of paperwork," Skiles said.

Some programs would likely be new, while others probably would be expansions of innovative curricula being used.

For example, the Literacy Collaborative, an intensive reading program being paid for with federal money for the primary grades at Annapolis' Germantown and Tyler Heights elementary schools, could be expanded to the intermediate grades, Skiles said.

"Clearly, the theme that will go through this whole thing is improved reading," he said.

Busch said he hopes the money will spur Annapolis businesses and civic organizations to step up support of the schools. He said he has watched too many schools in Severna Park, Arnold and other places take advantages and build on them through large fund-raisers for such items as books and computers, the kind of money the Annapolis schools can't raise for extras.

"There's a lot of inequities we hope can be addressed here," he said.

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