Taking a lesson in Baltimore

Learning: Anne Arundel educators visit a unique city school as they contemplate opening a charter institution in their own county.

October 13, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Children at KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore are constantly reminded of their goal: college.

Photos from the brochures of college preparatory high schools hang in the hall; homerooms are named after teachers' college alma maters.

Yesterday, top Anne Arundel County school officials took a field trip to the city school for a firsthand look at KIPP - short for "Knowledge Is Power Program" - a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that operates 38 schools nationwide and is among three groups seeking to start a charter school in Anne Arundel.

Anne Arundel school board members Tricia Johnson and Eugene Peterson said they were impressed by the KIPP model, particularly the commitment of its teachers, parents and students, and the focus on college.

But they and other school officials want to know more about funding, special education and how a KIPP school would work with employee unions.

"We're going to have to create some of those answers ourselves," said schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith.

Last year Maryland legislation authorized charter schools - functionally independent programs that receive public funds. School boards would have to approve applications to open a charter school within each district.

The KIPP Ujima Village Academy is not technically a charter school - it remains a formal part of the Baltimore City school district - but it has many of the characteristics of the overall charter school model.

At KIPP schools, for example, children and staff agree to an extended day, week and year, said Jallon Brown, who would serve as principal of the prospective Annapolis school.

At Baltimore's Ujima Village, teachers receive an 18 percent stipend for their extra hours, but they receive a waiver from the union contract to do so.

Sheila Finlayson, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, was happy to hear that teachers at KIPP had planning time built into their day - something that has been a problem at other charter schools. Overall, "I think it's very doable," she said.

The extra work and commitment already has resulted in high achievement at KIPP Ujima Village. This year, fifth- and sixth-graders earned the highest math scores in the city on the Maryland State Assessment tests.

Some of the khaki-clad children at KIPP said they first considered the possibility of college because of the school's influence.

"There's no magic here as much as it is elbow grease," said Andy Smarick, director of the Charter School Leadership Council.

One of the founders of KIPP has served on the board of that organization, and Smarick, an Arnold resident, said he is excited that the group is considering Anne Arundel County.

While attending Edgecombe Circle Elementary, 11-year-old Brandon Greene said he had limited knowledge of options after high school.

"I thought that the only colleges were Morgan and Coppin State," he said.

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