School operator seeks to expand

City officials reject Edison's request to open middle school

Some parents back plan

April 01, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

The for-profit company that manages three Baltimore schools wants to expand by launching a middle school, but city administrators have rejected the request by Edison Schools.

Edison wants to open a middle school to serve pupils attending Furman L. Templeton, Gilmor and Montebello elementary/junior academies, said Rich O'Neill, a regional vice president for the New York-based company.

At a minimum, O'Neill said, Edison wants to add a seventh-grade program for children now in grade six. He said that there is no space to expand at Montebello, which already uses portable classrooms, and that there likely isn't room at the other schools either.

Several hundred parents, students and teachers rallied Wednesday in favor of an Edison seventh grade.

The state took control of failing schools Templeton, Gilmor and Montebello in 2000 and handed them over to Edison as part of Maryland's first experiment in school privatization.

The company had mixed results in its first year operating the schools. Montebello made impressive gains on the most recent state exams under a former city principal, while alarmingly low scores at Templeton and Gilmor dropped further. Edison said that, on average, its sixth-graders outperformed their counterparts citywide on this year's Maryland Functional reading and math tests.

Baltimore school officials have repeatedly - and publicly - aired their distaste for Edison and the state's arrangement with it, saying the Edison schools receive more money per pupil than their own. The state's decision last year to approve a sixth-grade program at the Edison schools meant a further decline in city school enrollment, which is directly tied to funding.

Edison's approximately 350 fifth-graders would have been reabsorbed into regular city schools this school year.

Chief Academic Officer Cassandra W. Jones said the school system is preparing to receive the Edison pupils next year.

"It is my view that I want to serve all of the children in the Baltimore City public school area. I would love to serve all of them, and I think we can," she said.

Jones said that the school system has been planning a restructuring of many of its middle schools - more kindergarten through eighth-grade programs are planned - which does not include Edison.

"I support the Baltimore City public school plan and that does not include Edison as an operator," she said.

Edison has approached city educators before about opening schools, but the city has not been receptive. O'Neill said Jones made it clear recently that the city has "no interest" in an Edison middle school.

"If the administration won't even talk to us, essentially our hands are tied," O'Neill said.

But, he said, parents and other Edison supporters will begin a lobbying effort, including sending letters to city schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo, City Council members and lawmakers in Annapolis.

"I think the parents - not Edison - need to carry their message to the school board and they need to carry it to the City Council," he said.

Edison supporters packed Montebello's gymnasium Wednesday night to offer testimony in favor of the company's expansion.

Jennifer Keck, who has taught at Furman L. Templeton Elementary for seven years, said she had been ready to leave the school - and possibly teaching altogether - before Edison took over. The children "not only need Edison for seventh grade, they deserve it," she said.

Kay Starks has a son and a niece in the sixth grade at Templeton. She doesn't want them to go to their regular zoned middle school, Calverton, for seventh grade because she believes the standards there are not as high.

"I know students that are there and they are totally lost," she said.

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