Baltimore's school board began the process of breaking up Lake Clifton/Eastern High School - the largest in the city -by voting last night to move a portion of the student body to another location.
About 350 ninth- and tenth-grade students who would have attended Lake Clifton next year will be assigned to an underused section of Thurgood Marshall Middle School in the fall.
The board delayed action for two weeks on a second component of the plan, which would move another 350 freshmen and sophomores to Fairmont-Harford High School next fall.
If the entire $21 million plan goes through, half of the Lake Clifton complex - one of the East Coast's largest high schools when it was built in 1971 - will be closed.
The breakup of Lake Clifton is the latest in a series of steps the school system is taking to improve its largest high schools by splitting them into three or four parts and sending students to different locations. Educators believe that students will be able to concentrate better on academics and be in closer contact with teachers if they attend high schools with an enrollment of 700 to 800 - compared to the 2,000 now at Lake Clifton.
Last year, Northern High was split into four schools and Southern is in the process of becoming a technology high school.
Several school board members said they felt uncomfortable voting on the proposal to move students from Lake Clifton to Fairmont-Harford High until they hear the details of where students who attend the alternative high school there will be transferred and what their academic program would be.
The school, built to house 1,200 students, was renovated recently and is used by only 350 students.
Two Fairmont-Harford students told the board last night that the school had made it possible for them to continue to get an education when they failed at neighborhood high schools.
"I was a dropout from Lake Clifton. I got lost. I didn't come back. I said I would give Fairmont-Harford a week," said senior George Short, opposing the proposed change there.
He stayed, he said, because he found the teachers cared. "The staff has just become another family for me."
If the entire plan is approved, about 1,200 students in grades nine through 12 would remain in the A/B wing of Lake Clifton next year. About 700 students - ninth-graders and 10th-graders - would be sent to Thurgood Marshall and Fairmont-Harford. Over time, the number of students at Thurgood and Fairmont-Harford would grow as one grade is added each year and enrollment at Lake Clifton declines.
No decision has been made on what would be done with the unused portion of Lake Clifton, but the half of the school that would remain in use needs about $15 million in renovations.
The board also voted to allow a new school, Empowerment Academy, to occupy a portion of Lafayette Elementary for two years.