Ousted city school still hopeful

Magnet facility official confident of finding home

April 26, 2003|By Sara Neufeld and Tanika White | Sara Neufeld and Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Principal Sheila Steele put on her cheerleader face yesterday as she broke the news to her staff and students at the National Academy of Finance and Tourism.

So their school needs a new home by September. Big deal. They've moved in a pinch before.

By lunchtime, when Steele threw a party for teachers, a school official had already called the real estate agent.

Steele is hopeful that state schools chief Nancy S. Grasmick, who quashed a deal Thursday for a long-term lease at the downtown Port Discovery building, can be persuaded to let her magnet school stay there for another year.

She won't go back to operating her academy out of the city's comprehensive high schools, she said, and that's that.

"I'm not going, and the kids are going where I go," she said.

Classes for sophomores, juniors and seniors are now held at Southwestern and Lake Clifton high schools. The plan was to send each new class of freshmen to the Port Discovery facility on Market Place and phase out the presence at Southwestern and Lake Clifton,

The school system's Chief Operating Officer Mark Smolarz said Thursday that the students would not be sent back to those schools.

Grasmick said all things are being considered -- nothing ruled out, but nothing ruled in. She did say, however, that sending the students to their home schools is "not my first choice." She said officials hope to come up with a viable solution in the next 10 days.

"We have to keep hoping that whatever happens is for the best," English teacher Heather Matesich said. "I just hope that other people have the children in mind as much as we do."

Grasmick said that she knows some critics believe the school is being moved to suit business interests. Some have insisted that the Port Discovery building could generate more tax revenue if it were used for commercial purposes.

Grasmick said her decision was based solely on the school system's looming budget deficit and the terms of the lease, which called for initial rent of $360,000 and $8 million in renovations. The schools' long-term lease would have been with the cash-strapped Baltimore Children's Museum, which controls square-footage in the building.

Kathleen Floyd, the school's director, said the downtown building has been ideal because the curriculum centers on job shadowing and internships. Just this month, students have walked to nine field trips.

"We feel Baltimore has a lot to offer," Floyd said. "It's a shame that people didn't feel our students had a lot to offer the city as well." The school prepares students for careers in information technology, finance, and travel and tourism.

Stephanie Boone, 14, was hopeful yesterday that a new school might have its own gym. But Todd Mullin, 16, did not want anything to change, although he had been initially hesitant to go to high school in a children's museum. "If we move somewhere, it's not going to be the same," he said.

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