Late, and short

October 03, 2004

THE EMERGENCY steps to bring a sense of order to Walbrook High Uniform Services Academy that were outlined last week by the Baltimore school system, Police Department and Fire Department are sensible and likely to make a real difference. But they're long overdue - by years.

And, as became clear during a public meeting to address Walbrook's problems, they're only a patch on much deeper wounds that afflict the school.

After a rash of nuisance fires - and then a shooting just outside the school - the city will institute such common-sense measures as ID cards, exterior doors that lock, better hallway monitoring and, for the time being, a full-time Fire Department presence. But the questions posed by parents to Bonnie S. Copeland, the city school system's CEO, and other administrators were devastating: Where have you been? Why did it take a gun going off to get anyone's attention?

Parents filled Walbrook's auditorium Thursday night, and the frustration just welled out. Their kids get no homework. There aren't enough textbooks to go around, so kids can't bring them home. Classes are taught for months by substitutes. There's inadequate guidance counseling, so there are 12th-graders who still don't know what they need to do to graduate. Outsiders can walk in and out of the school all day long.

A science teacher described a class with 32 students, 30 books and 28 chairs.

Walbrook's recent history is not, of course, a complete blank. The previous principal, Andrey Bundley, was suspended this year and accused of promoting and graduating students who hadn't met their requirements. Twenty fires were reported to the Fire Department last year (and 15 so far this year), but evidently there were considerably more. Walbrook had the worst results in the city on the Maryland High School Assessment English test this year. It had the second-worst math score; 2.4 percent of its students met core standards.

So here were parents lining up for their rare chance to berate city administrators, with one of the chief complaints being that under normal circumstances they can never get anyone at the North Avenue headquarters (which was hit hardest by the big round of layoffs last year) to pay attention.

Like other troubled high schools before it, Walbrook is in the process of being split up into smaller schools. The system, in its usual react-to-crisis mode, is finally moving to ensure the safety of its students there. But after that, it might be worthwhile to pay attention to the quality of their education.

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