It's time to stop playing victim and start fixing the schools

October 02, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

HOW DO you think those great minds at Baltimore City public schools headquarters on North Avenue - a.k.a. the Kremlin - feel now about removing Andrey Bundley as principal of Walbrook Uniform Services Academy?

Much like those two North Carolina high school basketball coaches who cut Michael Jordan as a sophomore, I would suspect.

Earlier this week, we learned that at least 15 fires have been set at Walbrook since school opened. After the latest one Wednesday, somebody fired a shot as students gathered outside.

The problems weren't confined to Walbrook. City police had to use pepper spray to break up a fight between two girls at Thurgood Marshall Middle/High School.

A student was seriously injured during a fight at Southwestern High School. At the time this column was being written, it still wasn't known if the assorted riff-raff and troublemakers at Baltimore's schools had called it a wrap for the week.

But now, at least, we know there are, indeed, assorted riff-raff and troublemakers. When the Maryland State Department of Education released a list of "dangerous" schools this summer, Mayor Martin O'Malley joined the great minds at North Ave. in shifting into fifth gear of the Victim Mode Volkswagen.

We're being picked on, the great minds whined. It's all a plot by the state to make Baltimore schools - and me - look bad, moaned O'Malley.

The source of the trouble, by implication, wasn't so much MSDE but forces of evil Republicanism, manifested by that man sitting in the governor's mansion.

Sometimes playing the victim can come back to haunt you. With the actions this week, Marylanders know that we don't need any help when it comes to making our schools look either bad or dangerous. Fifteen fires set in 22 days, a gunshot, pepper spray used to break up a fight and a student seriously injured speak volumes more about the problems facing this system than the MSDE report on "dangerous" schools ever could.

Now that the great minds know they don't have Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. or state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick to kick around on this one, they have come up with a plan about what to do at Walbrook. There will be more members of the Baltimore Police Department and school police at the school, where students will carry identification cards and adhere to a uniform policy.

Someone also offered advice to Walbrook's new principal, Shirley A. Cathorne. But I doubt whether she or the great minds want it.

The advice comes from Bundley, still banned from all school property and still on the "must fire" list of the great minds at the Kremlin. Bundley was suspended this summer from his job at Harbor City High School - where he was transferred from Walbrook.

Bundley faces seven charges, among them awarding diplomas to students not eligible for graduation and passing students without proper credits while he was principal at Walbrook.

But Bundley said he isn't bitter. He said his concern now is for the Walbrook students he still calls "my children."

"Cathorne has to get with the children and build a relationship with the children," Bundley said. "She's going to have to get to know them by need and name. They want you to know them by name."

That includes, Bundley stressed, their nicknames. Walbrook's former principal said he got to know some students by their nicknames when he patrolled the cafeteria, where his charges were at their most relaxed and informal.

"You've got to be in the cafeteria," Bundley said, alluding to allegations by some Walbrook students that they hadn't seen Cathorne until she attended a Thursday night town hall meeting at the school. "That's where you build your relationships."

Those relationships are crucial, Bundley said, because Cathorne is dealing with kids from eight different - and sometimes antagonistic - Baltimore neighborhoods.

"She's got the North [Avenue] and Laurens [Street] group and the Calhoun [Street] and Stricker [Street] group," Bundley said. "She's got the [Walbrook] Junction Boys and the Cook's Lane Boys."

Yesterday, Cathorne was busy trying to meet with her advisory council while seeing to it that some students gathered in the office were able to catch their buses.

In between, she had to deal with a couple of television news trucks parked outside the school, which blocked the way of the buses. When I called her earlier in the day to get her reaction to the allegation that she spent too much time in the office, a secretary said Cathorne was busy walking the halls.

Her official response to the situation at Walbrook was "no comment." But, assuming the allegation about spending too much time in her office was true before Thursday night, it sure wasn't true yesterday.

"They put her in a tough situation," Bundley said.

When this year draws to a close, that might prove to be the understatement of the year.

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