Alumni object to new makeup of City College

Lack of black teachers, male students noted

December 03, 2003|By Tanika White and Liz Bowie | Tanika White and Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

The principal of City College finds himself at the center of a public debate over student enrollment and teacher recruitment at one of Baltimore's most prestigious public high schools, after alumni raised concerns with top school officials.

Some alumni are worried that the once all-male school is now predominantly female and that a number of veteran teachers have left the institution in recent years. But the school's critics say it was not their intention to make principal Joseph M. Wilson the focus of criticism. What started as a private discussion over City's future with Wilson and school officials, they say, has escalated into a public debate with racial overtones.

"Our main concern is that people are trying to make this a racial issue. That was never our intent," said Jacob Howard III, former president of the alumni board of governors. "We have been getting some inquiries. We have noticed some things we had a problem with."

Schools chief Bonnie Copeland has instructed Chief Academic Officer Cassandra Jones and Frank DeStefano, who oversees high schools, to review the complaints. Their report is due Friday.

Copeland declined to comment, saying the issue was a personnel matter. Wilson said some of the complaints are unfounded and that the school's record of outstanding academic achievement stands for itself.

A number of e-mail messages from school alumni have been sent to the news media, graduates and educational advocates, some calling for Wilson's ouster and others claiming there is a "state of emergency" at City College. Radio talk show hosts have weighed in, and local politicians have confronted the principal.

At the center of the debate for some alumni are three issues:

A predominantly white staff for a student population that is 90 percent African-American.

A relatively low percentage of boys - 35 percent - enrolled at the school, which had been all-male until 1980.

A high rate of turnover of veteran teachers. Alumni say their statistics show 140 staff members have left the school in the past nine years.

April Yvonne Garrett, an alumni board member, said she and other board members, at a meeting with Wilson last year, discussed the male enrollment at the school - a figure that she called "jarring." After visiting with former teachers at the school, she said, more details unfolded about a number of beloved, veteran teachers who had left or were planning to leave.

The alumni board began asking questions, she said, and initially worked with Wilson to find answers.

A smaller group of individuals, some of whom have children at City, hold a more strident view than the alumni board.

"It is rare in this city to have a school where the majority of the teachers are white. That's not coincidence," said activist and radio talk show personality Tyrone Powers. He also said some teachers have told him that there was an attempt to make City a majority white school and that the principal was recruiting students from majority white schools. Powers said he has voiced those concerns to Jones.

But he said he is not calling for Wilson's head. "I don't know how competent or incompetent he is. ... What we are talking about is the fact that the recruiting should take place on an even field."

Alumni said they were trying to address the problems, but word got out about those concerns, and the "City College issue" took on a life of its own, Garrett said.

"Things have been exacerbated as we were trying to figure out just what exactly the situation is," said alumni board member Wendell Phillips.

"It is absolutely unfortunate that it has gotten out to the public the way that it has," Garrett said.

Wilson said many of the issues are being addressed.

While the enrollment of girls has grown steadily over the years, Wilson points out that the school has tried to attract boys from middle schools and that the number of boys in the freshman class increased this year by 58.

An African-American City graduate, hired by Wilson, recruits at every middle school in the city as well as parochial and private schools. The principal also said a computer selects who is admitted based on academic records.

When Wilson arrived in 1994, 98 students who didn't meet City's standards were admitted because there weren't enough qualified candidates. But last year, there were 60 qualified students on a waiting list.

"We are attracting more of every race of kid and better prepared kids," Wilson said.

Wilson and alumni said they hope to admit 25 boys a year who show promise but don't meet the City standards, after giving them extra summer help.

Concerns about staff turnover, he said, were overblown.

When he took over, he said, there were 52 faculty members, one-third of whom are still at the school. Some teachers retired, he said, and some were promoted. Of those that were transferred to other schools, six left voluntarily and four left at Wilson's request, after a central office review.

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