Russo outlines schedule of changes

All zoned high schools would be revamped during next three years

April 24, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore schools chief Carmen V. Russo announced yesterday that she will begin drawing up plans for the reform of the city's neighborhood high schools with a $229,000 grant from the Open Society Institute.

At a news conference at Southern High School, she said she wants to tackle three high schools each year for the next three years. The school system will spend next school year redesigning Northern High School, Lake Clifton/Eastern High School and Southern, but no changes will be seen at those schools until fall 2002.

How to improve large urban high schools with high dropout and low graduation rates has been debated nationally for years, but educators generally agree that small schools work best for disadvantaged students.

Russo said she would borrow ideas from successful high schools in other cities but would design an individual plan for each city high school.

Southern is slated to become a technology high school that would draw students from around the city, but details remain to be worked out.

Lake Clifton/Eastern, the city's largest high school with about 2,400 students, was broken down into two high schools in the fall under a plan created by a group of nonprofit organizations, including the Baltimore-based Fund for Educational Excellence.

But Russo said she believes the school might need to be further divided into schools with 500 or 600 students each. The schools would share facilities such as the gym, but each would have its own principal, teachers and focus.

Russo arrived in Baltimore 10 months ago as the city schools chief executive officer, saying her priority would be improving the city's worst high schools. Her background included years as a administrator in charge of high schools in New York City.

Yesterday was the first time she has said publicly how she intends to proceed.

Russo said the school system must move slowly because the process is difficult. The final three schools will not be revamped until fall 2004, about seven years after the state and city formed a partnership to reform what a former CEO called an "academically bankrupt" school system.

In some of the city's nine neighborhood or zoned high schools, more than 50 percent of students drop out between their freshman and senior years.

Unlike the city's elementary schools, which have been improving for the past three years after an infusion of money and attention, the high schools have been left largely unchanged.

The grant from philanthropist George Soros' Open Society Institute is a portion of the $2 million Russo says will be needed to plan for changes at the nine high schools. Institute official Gara LaMarche said the organization hopes to bring other foundations into the effort.

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