Proposal calls for new city high school

Ripple effect seen in bid to recast Lombard Middle

Board member skeptical

Facility would draw from Lake Clifton, Patterson, Southern

November 28, 2001|By Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski | Liz Bowie and Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Baltimore school officials have proposed turning an east-side middle school into a high school, a plan that has potential repercussions for thousands of students at every level of the system.

The proposal to recast Lombard Middle, which was disclosed at last night's school board meeting, is a new twist in a larger plan to double the number of prekindergarten through eighth-grade schools and reduce the size of the city's nine neighborhood high schools.

If the proposal is adopted by the school board, the new Lombard would receive some students who would have gone to Southern High, which is scheduled to become a technology-focused magnet with more rigorous academics next year. It would also receive students from Lake Clifton-Eastern and Patterson high schools, which the school system is trying to make smaller.

Turning Lombard into a high school also would have a ripple effect on several East Baltimore elementaries that send children to middle school there.

City Springs and Harford Heights would be turned into prekindergarten through eighth-grade schools. The school system's chief operating officer, Mark Smolarz, said no decision has been made on where students from Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary, another Lombard feeder, would go for grades six through eight. Several alternatives are being considered, he said.

Some of Lombard's students would stay there for high school, rather than going on to Patterson in East Baltimore or Southern High in Federal Hill.

It's unclear when the first group of ninth-graders would begin high school at Lombard, which is on Lombard Street two blocks west of Broadway.

Board member Colene Y. Daniel said she was skeptical of turning Lombard into a high school, in part because she didn't know if the building could accommodate such a program. She also called for parents' input in the decision process.

"You are talking about possibly putting a high school immediately across the street from a K to 8," she said, referring to City Springs. "I think we need parental involvement."

The proposed arrangement at Lombard would serve the school system's goal of creating new, smaller high schools -- a top priority of the chief executive officer, Carmen V. Russo. She has pledged to reform all nine of the city's low-performing neighborhood high schools -- as well as create up to eight new "innovation" high schools -- over the next five years.

Turning Southern into a citywide school was first proposed a year ago, but so far, school officials have been unclear about what would happen to students who are neither interested in -- nor accepted into -- its program.

Russo has promised that some slots would be held for students who live in the southern Baltimore neighborhoods surrounding it.

Last night the school board listened to architects discuss how Southern could be renovated for its new purpose as the so-called "Digital Harbor" high school. Next fall, the reconfigured school will admit 350 students into ninth grade; students currently in Southern will stay until graduation.

In the original school reorganization plan, announced last month, Lombard was to have been combined with City Springs to form a new prekindergarten through eighth-grade campus. Lombard, which is one of the city's lowest-performing middle schools, became part of the newly created "CEO's district" this year, which means it is receiving extra resources in the name of accelerated reform.

Lombard Principal Gwendola Taliaferro and City Springs Principal Bernice Welchel both said yesterday afternoon that they had not heard of the new proposal.

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