North Avenue also failed Walbrook students

July 31, 2004|By Gregory Kane

CHADON BRADSHAW is going to school this summer to learn how to style hair. It's a good thing she didn't do it in, say, Hawaii.

Last month, Bradshaw, 17, graduated from Walbrook High School Uniform Services Academy. Or at least she thought she did. Bradshaw is one of more than 100 Walbrook graduates -- or non-graduates -- who've learned they may have missed required courses.

You've heard the story by now, and, since this news comes to us from the folks in a system which had a $58 million deficit, you're probably not surprised.

An internal audit of records revealed that recent Walbrook graduates might not have met all the requirements for graduation. Even the class of 2004 valedictorian, Charles Morris, was affected. Morris, who carried a 4.0 average, was missing some test scores on Maryland's functional exams, according to an article by Sun reporter Laura Loh.

Bradshaw, either fortunately or unfortunately, just happened to stay in Baltimore this summer.

She heard about what was going on at Walbrook and decided to visit what should have been her fondly remembered alma mater only to learn that there was no record of her passing a ninth-grade health class and 10th-grade geometry.

The aspiring hair stylist emerged from Walbrook Thursday afternoon looking, oh, just a tad miffed. "They told me to go home, see if I could find my ninth-grade health notebook and see if I had any grades or tests in it," Bradshaw said. "How am I going to get a ninth-grade notebook from four years ago? That's crazy."

Ah, young Ms. Bradshaw, it may be crazy, but it's not unexpected. Walbrook's woes don't sound like news, but more like a confirmation of what teachers and other employees in the system have been saying anonymously and off the record for several years. The charges of misplaced records, or of students passing who had actually flunked, are not new. But there's much more. Some of those same anonymous e-mailers, callers and letter writers said, long before state School Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick did, that school bigwigs at North Avenue headquarters -- aka "the Kremlin," aka "the house that dysfunction built" -- misspent more than $18 million of Title I money. Earlier this month, a three-member panel concluded that city school honchos ran up the $58 million deficit by spending money on academic programs the system couldn't afford, repeating almost verbatim what many insiders had said anonymously months before.

But lest anyone is tempted to cast an accusing eye toward the Kremlin in what's going on at Walbrook, a scapegoat has already been primed for the spit: Dr. Andrey Bundley, Walbrook's principal for much of the school year before he was transferred to Harbor City Learning Center, has been put on paid administrative leave. That has led to speculation by some that the investigation at Walbrook and the suspicions about Bundley, who was Mayor Martin O'Malley's opponent in the 2003 Democratic primary, are politically motivated.

Bundley has given credence to that notion. One Walbrook alumnus who stood outside the school Thursday had his suspicions as well.

"It's a travesty what's happening here at Walbrook," observed 47-year-old Randolph Ballentine, who said he graduated from the school in 1975. "We should be concerned with students and helping them achieve their goals. Instead, we're concerned with politics and money." For all the accusations of political hanky-panky, Bundley may indeed have some culpability. As Walbrook principal, it was his job to see that counselors recorded grades accurately. But no one in these parts, given what we now know about the school system, is going to be stupid enough to believe this latest goof is peculiar to Walbrook. They may call us Balti-morons, but we're not that dumb.

On Thursday evening, during reports about Walbrook's woes, WBAL television education reporter Tim Tooten did another story about Thurgood Marshall Middle School promoting a girl to the seventh grade. The problem was the girl wasn't enrolled in the school and had received failing grades in every class.

If Ramona Carlos heard that report, it probably didn't come as a shock to her. Carlos was at Walbrook Thursday with her 18-year-old daughter Michelle Smith, whom she thought had graduated. But now there's a question among school officials about whether Smith passed her 10th-grade English and Spanish courses. However, there's no question in Carlos' mind. "Oh, she passed them," Carlos said of the courses. "I remember looking at the report cards. I'm just wondering why it took them so long to realize they weren't recorded right."

We should all wonder when the folks in charge of such matters will realize that this system needs a thorough housecleaning at the administrative level.

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