Edison fails to improve two schools

Private management disappointed by first-year results

One principal is replaced

Montebello gains with Horsey

officials remain optimistic

January 30, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The for-profit company hired to take over three failing Baltimore elementary schools said yesterday that it is "terribly disappointed" by the schools' performances on the latest statewide tests and has replaced one principal.

Furman L. Templeton Elementary in West Baltimore posted the worst results of the three schools that Edison Schools Inc. began operating last year. No third-grader passed the test in math, reading, social studies or science last year, and its fifth-grade scores declined in every subject. The overall score for Gilmor Elementary in West Baltimore also dropped.

Montebello Elementary in Northeast Baltimore -- the third school run by Edison under a state contract that pays more than $10 million a year -- achieved major gains under the leadership of a city principal hired away by the company.

Results of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests -- released Monday -- were especially disappointing for Edison because the city public school system achieved its fifth straight increase overall and outgained every other jurisdiction except one in Maryland.

"I am not going to offer any excuses," said Marliana Palmeri, senior vice president of Edison, a national company. "We are terribly disappointed."

But she said that Edison should not be condemned for one year of poor results, adding that she would be "shocked" if both Templeton and Gilmor do not make improvements on the tests this year.

Edison transferred the principal at Templeton several weeks ago, before the MSPAP scores were in. Palmeri said Edison will begin a nationwide search for a replacement. In the meantime, the school's assistant principal has taken charge.

Edison was chosen by the State Board of Education to run the three schools in Baltimore, all of which had been on the state's list of failing schools for several years and had failed to show significant improvement under city management. They were the first schools to be taken over by the state based on performance on the MSPAP tests.

Under the contract, which runs for three years with an option for two more, Edison receives $7,462 per pupil a year to direct the schools. According to an analysis by some critics, the figure is $2,400 per pupil more than city school principals receive each year.

State officials said they were not alarmed by the test results because they said research shows that it takes three to five years to improve a school.

"I am disappointed in the scores, but I do know that change comes slowly and there have been positive changes in all three schools," said Mary Cary, an assistant state superintendent.

Cary and Rhona Fisher, director of special projects at the State Board of Education, said the staffs at Templeton and Gilmore struggled to make sure the culture of the schools changed.

"It is an issue where people want to see immediate results," Fisher said. "There are results, but they may not show up in a high-stakes test like MSPAP the first time out."

Templeton's composite score -- approximately, the percentage of students who scored at a satisfactory level on the tests -- fell from 4.4 to 2.3; Gilmor's dropped from 12.9 to 9.2. The average city score was 22.5. Statewide, elementary scores averaged 43.7.

Montebello's performance improved significantly, rising from 10.6 to 33.1. Third-grade reading scores rose from a 10 percent satisfactory rate in 2000 to 25 percent this past year. In fifth grade, reading scores went up from 8 percent to 21 percent. Similar gains were seen in every subject in the third and fifth grades.

The gains occurred under Sarah Horsey, a Baltimore principal who had achieved remarkable results the previous three years at Pimlico Elementary School. By the time she left the school, its overall score was just a point below the 70 percent standard set by the state and far better than many suburban schools. Edison hired Horsey away from the city by offering her a higher salary.

Gilmor is also being run by a former city school administrator. Its results are mixed. Third-grade scores fell in every subject while fifth grade scores rose slightly in some categories.

Templeton's principal, Darryl Bonds, was moved to an Edison-run middle school in Pennsylvania to assist a principal there. Edison has directed Horsey to act as mentor for the principals at the two other schools.

Palmeri said the poor performance of Templeton and Gilmor is not unusual for schools in the first year of reform and that sometimes they must "sacrifice achievement to get our climate right. When kids are not focused, we know we are not going to get the results."

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