Three innovative middle schools run by private organizations are expected to make their debuts this fall for children in West and East Baltimore, giving parents more options than their large, sometimes failing, neighborhood schools.
The city school board gave approval last night for its staff to begin writing contracts with the operators of the new schools. They would be run by three separate entities: the Living Classroom Foundation; a group of three former city teachers; and a Baltimore teacher trained by a nationally recognized middle school program.
Two plan to use a program developed by Outward Bound that would include the city school curriculum while focusing on learning through outside-the-classroom experiences. The third would use the nationally recognized Knowledge Is Power Program, developed at a highly successful New York City school.
For the past five years, the city school board has sought contracts with teachers, parents, churches and nonprofit organizations interested in starting a school or taking over an existing public school.
"I think they add new approaches, new ways of looking at working with children," said Charlene Cooper Boston, an administrator whose duties include overseeing new schools.
Most of the new schools have been elementaries. The more successful include City Springs, run by the Abell Foundation, and Midtown Academy, founded by parents from Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill.
Each of the new middle schools approved last night will receive basic funding from the school system but be run independently under a contract that the school board must approve before the doors may open.
Each will open with one grade in the fall and add a new grade in each of the next two years. In several years, the largest school would have only about 300 children and be far smaller than the average city middle school of 800 or 1,000 children.
Pupils from surrounding neighborhoods will be given priority; if there are too many applicants, final selection will be made by lottery.
The first school, Ujima Village Academy, will be run by Knowledge is Power Program, a rigorous academic program developed in a successful Bronx school. KIPP, subsidized by the owners of The Gap clothing chain, trains teachers from across the country who then found schools in their home cities.
Jason L. Botel, a former Booker T. Washington Middle School teacher, took the training last year. He is looking at several locations, including an empty portion of Calverton Middle School in West Baltimore, to open the school for grades five through eight.
The second start-up, Cross Roads Schools, founded by former city teacher Mark Conrad, will be operated by the Living Classrooms Foundation. It will start with 50 sixth-graders next year, add a seventh grade in 2003 and an eighth grade in 2004. Pupils will come from four public elementary schools north and east of the harbor.
That school and the third, ConneXions Community Leadership Academy, will use the city curriculum and the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound approach to learning.
"We want the kids to expand their definition of the classroom to include Baltimore City itself," said John Robertson, ConneXions director, who is starting the school with city teachers Dana Danpolson and April Motaung.
Robertson said the school will be in a separate building on the William H. Lemmel Middle School campus at 2801 N. Dukeland St.