Putting plans on hold in a wait for validation

Uncertainty: Walbrook High students may have to delay college plans and opt for a summer school session to validate their diplomas.

July 30, 2004|By Scott Waldman | Scott Waldman,SUN STAFF

When Denitra Whitley was handed her diploma from Walbrook High School Uniform Services Academy last month, she felt as if she could get any job she wanted. It didn't even bother her much that her middle name was spelled wrong on the piece of paper she had worked toward for four years.

But when Whitley, 18, visited Walbrook yesterday to check on her transcripts -- even though she had not received any calls from school officials -- she learned that her plans to enroll at Baltimore City Community College and become a nurse may have to be put on hold. All this over an English class she did not take her sophomore year.

"I don't think it is my fault," she said. "It's something I should have had two years ago."

Whitley is among more than 100 of the 396 Walbrook students who received a diploma last month that may be invalid after the announcement this week by school officials that the graduates failed to meet requirements. Hundreds of other Walbrook students also might have been improperly promoted to the next grade.

The errors sparked an investigation of Walbrook by school officials -- including the impounding of many files by school police officers -- as well as a review of student records at 39 other city high schools. No discrepancies were found at the other school checked so far, Southwestern.

"When you start an investigation, you open a lot of doors," said Edie House, a city schools spokeswoman.

In Whitley's case, the problem seems to be rooted in miscommunication. Whitley took English I her freshman year, and English III and IV her junior and senior years, respectively. Though she was aware that she had not taken English II her sophomore year, she said a guidance counselor assured her that she could graduate without having to make up the missing credits.

"She said, `Don't worry about it. I'll give you this credit if you pass English IV,'" Whitley said.

Whitley was hoping to find a summer job, but she will now have to attend an emergency summer school session, for which students can register Monday.

That students are not always aware of what they need to graduate does not surprise Eugene Chongqui, who has taught 10th- and 11th-grade math at Walbrook for the past three years. He said that Walbrook does not have a notification system that lets students know when they need to retake a class.

"The system should be diligent enough to say, `Your kid failed, and here's what he needs to pass,'" Chongqui said.

Part of the problem at Walbrook, as well as other city schools, said Chongqui, is that more parents need to take notice of what their kids are doing. Many are not diligent in checking the report cards and test scores their children are bringing home, he said.

Nancy Newkirk was among the few Walbrook parents who came to check transcripts in the past few days. She monitors her daughter's progress at Walbrook so often, school secretaries said she deserves a desk in their office. Newkirk, who sometimes comes to the school every other day, said not enough parents are involved with their children's education.

"Your money is going down the drain because you're laying in bed, not doing nothing," she said.

Parents with children in other grades at Walbrook are encouraged to stop by the school the week of Aug. 10 to check their transcripts, House said. Now, the primary concern of school officials is addressing seniors who have had their diplomas invalidated, she said. The school is set to open again from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today.

House hopes that those students will be not be discouraged by problems with their diploma. She said that guidance counselors will be available to help them with this important step into their future.

"Get that credit," she said. "Don't throw in the towel."

Sherry McCord stopped by yesterday because she received a letter welcoming her son Kareem Jubilee, who she thought would be a sophomore at Walbrook next year, to a freshman orientation. She was surprised that the letter was the first indication she had received from the school that her son would have to repeat a grade. McCord said she was aware her son had not passed his required freshman math class, but figured he could make it up by taking Saturday classes next year.

"If he had to go to summer school," McCord said, "they should have let me know."

McCord, who is an administrative assistant at the city's Harlem Park Middle School, said communication problems are not unique to Walbrook.

She thinks improper funding for education in the city is to blame.

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