Revamping secondary education

Smaller schools, rigorous academics are city's goal

$55 million over 5 years

System will seek help from business, foundations, state

October 09, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore public school system plans to restructure high school education by starting new schools and remaking existing ones, with the goal of creating smaller schools and giving students more choices.

Schools chief Carmen V. Russo, offering her most detailed plan for tackling one of the system's most pressing problems, said yesterday that she expects to open one new high school for 200 to 300 students next year.

It would be called an "innovation high school," one of eight she hopes will open eventually. She said she will encourage outside groups to apply to start and run these schools. Russo said she has two proposals in hand, but would not release details.

Her "Blueprint for Neighborhood High Schools" would be the most systematic high school reform in more than 30 years, costing $55 million over five years. For funding, school officials said they would need more state aid, but also would seek help from foundations and businesses.

Russo's focus is the nine failing neighborhood or "zoned" high schools attended by slightly more than half of all high school students. Unlike citywide schools such as Polytechnic and Western, which have entrance requirements and where 90 percent of students go on to college, the neighborhood schools offer few honors classes and Advanced Placement courses.

Seventy-one percent of neighborhood high school students drop out between the ninth and 12th grades; of those who graduate, 40 percent attend college.

The neighborhood schools will be revamped - four next school year and five the following year. Russo said those schools could have an entirely new academic focus or specialty. "I am not wedded to any [model] but small high schools," she said.

Russo said her goal is to break apart these large, sometimes chaotic institutions with 2,000 students into smaller schools with on average 400 students each. Although some schools such as Lake Clifton/Eastern could be broken up into separate high schools with their own specialties and principals but remain in one building, Russo did not rule out opening some schools in other buildings.

Plans for four schools

Several new elementary schools, run by parents or nonprofit groups, have opened in the city during the past several years in churches, former schools or other locations.

The school system will begin writing the plans for four of these high schools this year.

Southern is expected to become a technology high school. Northern will split into academies, using a model for reform created by a Johns Hopkins University center for educational research.

The futures of Southwestern and Lake Clifton/Eastern are less clearly defined, but both schools are expected to devise new plans by February.

The next school year, five more schools will go through the makeover process: Walbrook, Patterson, Douglass, Forest Park and Northwestern.

Teachers, parents and principals, who say that over the years too little has been expected of students at the nine schools, want to see higher academic expectations and more rigorous classes: About 62 percent of the schools' teachers are provisional teachers who aren't certified in the subjects they teach.

The school system acknowledges these problems and plans to address them.

`College is ... for everyone'

The College Board, a nonprofit association of educational organizations that offers tests to students seeking advanced placement credit in colleges, has agreed to help the school system during the next three years.

The College Board will help train teachers for Advanced Placement courses, counsel parents on how to help their children prepare academically for college, and advise the school system on how to structure their curriculum.

"We are going to try to change the culture in the city to say college is an option for everyone," said Patricia Jo Martin, executive director of the Middle States Regional Office of the College Board.

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