A suburban solution

Principals bring diverse styles to city schools

The Principals : Challenge In The City

July 18, 2002|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The suburban principals picked to lead three of Baltimore's most troubled schools are high-energy, ambitious educators who relish challenges and have consistently produced solid results.

It is not surprising then that the three, Eileen L. Copple, Edward E. Cozzolino and Stephen O. Gibson, sought out what is likely to be the greatest, and possibly riskiest move of their careers - the remaking of inner-city schools with a decade of failure.

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has picked these principals, and given them a $125,000 annual salary, to lead three city schools for the next three years. Grasmick believes that the new leaders will be the keys in helping these schools excel. Also, they are expected to mentor several assistant principals who hope to lead other schools.

Copple, a Baltimore County administrator who logged many miles on the beltway this year as head of a strike force to help the county's struggling schools, will take over at Johnston Square Elementary, a school where no fifth-graders passed the state math test last year and less than 4 percent passed the reading portion.

In a poor East Baltimore neighborhood of brick rowhouses, Johnston Square is a world away from the upper-middle class area of Padonia International Elementary School in Baltimore County where Copple was principal until 2001.

But colleagues say they expect she will bring her optimistic spirit and ability to unite teachers and parents in a common cause to solve some of the entrenched problems at a school where only a few years ago the principal was forced out after she threatened a child with physical violence.

Cozzolino, principal of Shady Springs Elementary in Baltimore County, will take over at Brehms Lane Elementary School in northeast Baltimore, a school that for most of the past 10 years has had scores far below both the state and city averages. A charismatic principal who is known for keeping a close eye on teachers and children, Cozzolino is known for having raised achievement at two county schools.

Gibson, a Howard County middle school principal, used 12-hour workdays to turn around Patapsco Middle School in Ellicott City, where he was principal during the 1990s. Gibson will take on Hamilton Middle School, a Northeast Baltimore school with more than 1,000 students. A strict disciplinarian who was not content to continue in his most recent position at Lime Kiln Middle, he takes over a school where most of the students were asked to attend summer school because they did not have passing grades.

Taking suburban principals - even with extraordinary talent, such as these three - and plunging them into a different school culture is an unusual move.

Kent Peterson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an authority on school leadership, said it is not uncommon for a district to identify strong principals and move them from place to place, "but I've never heard of bringing in outsiders and paying a premium."

"Success for the three leaders will depend on whether the teacher insiders will follow the lead of the outsiders," Peterson said. "If a school's culture is not completely at odds with you, you should be able to show results within a couple of years. It all depends on establishing credibility."

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