Reorganizing schools mainly seen as a plus

Elementary-middle combination winning praise in Baltimore

`Very hopeful and very exciting'

But proposal to close 3 special education sites is decried

October 25, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

At Frankford Intermediate School, parents were eager yesterday to hear more details about how it would be combined with an elementary school.

At Mount Washington Elementary School, parents celebrated a dream that seemed to be coming true. And at Booker T. Washington Middle School, the principal was elated.

Across Baltimore, parents and educators were mostly enthusiastic about a major reorganization plan announced by city school officials Tuesday that would create 17 elementary-middle schools in a move to keep pupils closer to their homes through eighth grade.

But plans to close three special education schools and three middle schools drew criticism, particularly from supporters of pupils at Claremont, an East Baltimore school for children with multiple handicaps.

The plan for reorganizing, closing or expanding 40 of the city's 175 schools is costly and will take three to five years to complete, even if the school system receives the funding it wants from the state.

School officials acknowledged yesterday that they will seek private money, such as foundation grants, because the governor has said he will reduce state spending on school construction next year.

"Depending on the dollars we get, we may have to prioritize what projects we can do," said Mark Smolarz, chief operating officer.

The four largest and most expensive projects are the building of two schools in West and Southeast Baltimore, renovations to Booker T. Washington Middle School to turn it into a prekindergarten through eighth grade arts magnet school and changes to Southern High School to create a technology high school.

Together, those projects are projected to cost $40 million next fiscal year and more money in future years.

But even without investing large amounts of money, the system could begin turning some of the elementary schools into schools serving pupils through eighth grade, Smolarz said.

With an expenditure of $100,000 to $300,000 per school, most of the elementary schools could add a sixth grade next year, he said.

"I have been pushing for this for years. It is very hopeful and very exciting," said Eva Glasgow, parent of a Mount Washington fifth-grader. Although a middle school addition to the school isn't likely to be completed until 2005, the school could use portable classrooms for a couple of years, she suggested.

The plan to double the number of prekindergarten through eighth-grade schools is popular in many areas. Last year, school officials considered closing Frankford Intermediate in East Baltimore. Now officials are proposing to merge it with Moravia Park Primary, a school next door.

Yesterday, parents had many questions for the principals of the two schools.

"The parents wonder what is going on," said R. Wayne Law, principal of Frankford. "They are pleased that their children will remain in a more contained setting for middle school years."

Ruth Bukatman, principal of Booker T. Washington Middle, said she was elated to learn that her school would be turned into an elementary-middle arts magnet school. "We have been working for at least eight years on developing the arts program here," she said.

Research shows, she said, that combined schools have higher achievement levels than large middle schools. "We all of us feel it is the right way to go. The system is doing what needs to be done to reform middle school education in the city."

The lack of details about the plan concerned some parents, including those with children at Fallstaff Middle School in Northwest Baltimore, which is slated to be closed. Stephanie Adams, president of the PTO there, was angry after she heard the news Tuesday.

She said Fallstaff parents didn't want to send their children to schools south of Northern Parkway for safety reasons.

But yesterday, when she learned that the pupils there now probably would finish their middle school careers at Fallstaff, she said, "I think the parents will be able to live with that."

Some supporters of Claremont vowed to fight to keep the school open. Teacher John H. Langley said he believes that transferring pupils to regular schools would put them in a difficult environment.

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