Suburban administrators to lead 3 failing city schools

Md. superintendent taps educators in counties for $125,000-a-year jobs

July 17, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

In a rare experiment to improve schools, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick is plucking three well-regarded administrators from Baltimore and Howard counties and giving them $125,000 yearly salaries to lead three failing city schools.

Their jobs will be to turn their new schoolsaround, raise test scores and train interns who can take over as principals when they leave.

"These people have demonstrated extraordinary leadership," said Grasmick.

The three are Edward Cozzolino, principal of Shady Spring Elementary School in Baltimore County; Eileen Copple, a Baltimore County administrator and former principal; and Stephen Gibson, principal of Lime Kiln Middle School in Howard County. Cozzolino will go to Johnston Square Elementary, Copple to Brehms Lane Elementary, and Gibson to Hamilton Middle School.

Grasmick said she hopes the experiment - dubbed the Maryland Distinguished Principal Fellowship Program - will encourage school districts around the state to share talent and experience. She said Baltimore received the first fellowship applicants because the city has the greatest number of failing schools, but she envisions principals being sent to help other systems.

"The salary was very attractive, but the primary thing was we were looking for high-quality people who were willing to take the risk of going to a system that is unknown to them," Grasmick said.

Principals have long been recognized as key to the success of schools, at least as important as the curriculum. The city schools that have made the largest gains in student achievement during the past five years have done so under the leadership of strong principals who supported veteran teachers and nurtured newer ones. At several schools, test scores have plummeted after effective principals left.

Twenty years ago, a principal was the friendly face in the office. Today, principals are responsible for their students' test scores, handling budgets in the millions of dollars, picking and training teachers, and making sure the school building is clean.

Though the three new principals will work for city schools, they will sign contracts with the state. Maryland will pay their salaries from funds appropriated by lawmakers for the program in the last General Assembly session.

After three years, the principals will go back to their previous systems. After internships with the fellowship principals, the new principals will take over the schools. The internship is an important aspect of the program, Grasmick said, because it aims to ensure that the progress of the school continues after the borrowed principals leave.

"We are very happy to participate in Dr. Grasmick's program, not only because we are going to have three wonderful principals but also because they are having interns. ... It is a win-win for the school system," said Carmen V. Russo, chief executive officer of Baltimore schools.

Despite the need for experienced principals in the city, the fellowship program is not popular with everyone.

The city is hiring 26 new principals this month, some who have been assistant principals and others arriving from outside the system. Those principals will be paid less, though they might be entering schools that are just as troubled.

The $125,000 salary is significantly higher than the top salary - $109,000 - that a city principal can earn and is likely to make principals angry, particularly those who have labored in the city for years, turning around failing schools but not getting similar compensation, said Sheila Z. Kolman, president of the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, the principals union.

Last year an elementary school principal could earn up to $90,832 annually, and a middle school principal could earn up to $99,765. The highest salaries go to high school principals. However, many principals earn substantially less, depending on their experience and graduate degrees. Principals work 12 months a year.

About 35 people from throughout the state applied for the jobs, including principals from Baltimore.

Kolman, disappointed that no city principal was chosen to take part in the program, said she believes that it will be difficult for an outsider who doesn't know the city's curriculum or culture to have an impact on a school in three years.

The interns assigned to principals are apparently coming from the city, many of them assistant principals, according to Kolman.

Two of the new principals were on vacation and unavailable for comment. The third did not return a phone call.

When Cozzolino returns from vacation, he will be assigned to Johnston Square Elementary School on the east side. It will be the third time he has taken on a challenging school.

Nearly a decade ago, he went to Middlesex Elementary School, considered one of the worst in the county. When he left four years later, Middlesex had been named a Blue Ribbon School, a national designation reserved for top-performing schools.

At Shady Spring in Rosedale, Cozzolino is credited with restoring discipline and raising scores during the past three years.

Copple was principal of Padonia Elementary School before taking the job of leading the system's Academic Intervention Team, which travels around the county to try boosting academic achievement at the most troubled schools.

Gibson, of Howard County, was named principal of the year in 1996 by the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals. During his tenure as principal of Patapsco Middle, the school was given an award for improved performance on state tests.

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