Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

September 04, 2004

State's warnings ignore progress of city schools

As a teacher in Baltimore's public schools for the past eight years, I share the Maryland State Department of Education's concern for the safety and security of my students. But the method used to determine that my school, Booker T. Washington Middle School, is "dangerous" is deeply flawed ("16 schools warned to reduce violence," Aug. 25)

The 25 students who were suspended, and who account for our "dangerous" label, apparently matter more than the more than 600 other students who come to school each day ready to learn. The MSDE also chose not to consider our math and reading scores, which have consistently improved since the No Child Left Behind Act took effect.

It did not tally the number of students who stay until the last teacher finally leaves the building (usually a full three hours after the school day officially ends) because this school is a place where they feel safe and valued, or the number of teachers who choose to teach here at Booker T. Washington.

Perhaps depending on only one number does not give an accurate lens into our school.

However, the "persistently dangerous" label does fit our society. Schools mirror the chaos that surrounds them, and I do not want to neglect the serious realities that face our community.

My school's ZIP code, 21217, has the highest number of juvenile felony arrests in the city.

The lack of living-wage jobs ravages our community and forces many into substandard jobs that simply continue the cycle of poverty many area residents inherit. Other community members seek financial stability by participating in an alternative drug economy that welcomes them with open arms.

Now instead of spending my time planning new lessons and experiences for students eager to learn, I am gearing up for more absurd classroom management workshops.

And I will have to navigate the fear that now pervades our school - not fear from our bright and dedicated students, but of the MSDE. My fear is that it will take away our already scarce resources.

And I have to plan for the fact that the fastest way for our school to avoid the "persistently dangerous" list is simply by not suspending anyone, no matter the infraction.

Maybe then we can finally live up to our notorious title.

Kristine Ward

Baltimore

The writer is a teacher at Booker T. Washington Middle School.

Suspending students can promote learning

After reading the article "16 city schools on probation for violence" (Aug. 25), I felt compelled to respond about what I know is a problem not just in Baltimore but nationwide.

I have served as a school resource officer in a local school for five years, and I am a member of the Maryland and national associations of school resource officers. Surveys conducted by the national association have shown that school violence is underreported, not overreported.

And I commend school administrators who are zealous in their handling of violence in their schools.

A fight typically suggests that an assault has occurred. If school administrators are encouraged to redefine things such as assault, then the students who play by the rules and deserve a quality education will be short-changed.

Parents expect school administrators to severely discipline students who are violent and disruptive. If that means suspensions and expulsions, so be it.

City school administrators should not back off but attack this problem head on.

Students, parents and taxpayers should demand that kids who commit these acts - and, yes, they are crimes in many cases - be removed so that the majority can live and learn in a safe environment.

Mike Snyder

Bel Air

MSDE's advisory may imperil teachers

The Sun's article concerning schools in trouble with the state for unacceptable levels of violence should serve as a warning to any young person contemplating a career in public education ("16 schools warned to reduce violence," Aug. 25).

If you go to work in a school where students bring guns, start fires and assault you or others, the last thing you should expect administrators to do is remove the offenders from the building.

This could result in unacceptable rates of suspension, and that would be (to borrow the words of Lynne E. Linde of the Maryland State Department of Education) "a very sad day for all of us."

To accommodate MSDE's demand for nonviolent schools, administrators may need to keep gun-toting, fire-starting and teacher-assaulting students in the school by holding the level of suspensions down to prove the school isn't violent.

I suggest that these underachieving administrators deliver their violent students to the offices of the Maryland State Department of Education to allow the administrators there to show them how to deal with these students.

And I hope The Sun will send a photographer.

Richard Henderson

Baltimore

Rankings overlook community colleges

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