Students protest to keep Patterson High together

They say they were not informed of plans to reorganize their school


News from around the Baltimore region

April 06, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

More than 50 students held a rally yesterday to protest a plan to split 2,000-student Patterson High into several smaller schools - a change that has occurred at three other large high schools under a citywide reform initiative.

Citing research that shows small schools have higher attendance rates and less violence, city school officials say they intend to reorganize the city's six remaining zoned schools in the next few years.

As word about the reorganization reached Patterson High students and alumni recently, it triggered fears that school officials want to close the East Baltimore school or change it beyond recognition.

Northern, Southern and Lake-Clifton Eastern high schools were divided into smaller schools in the past few years. Each has a new name, principal and academic specialty.

"We're not just going to let what happened at Northern happen here," said Derrick Irvin, an 11th-grader and varsity lacrosse player who was among the protesters outside Patterson yesterday.

Frank Destefano, the system's director of high schools, defended the reorganization. He said that the effort was in its planning stages, and that Patterson would not be fully restructured until the fall of next year.

Destefano also stressed that the design for the new, smaller schools has been left up to Patterson's "school improvement team," a group that includes school staff and community members.

The school is now organized as four "academies," each with a unique academic focus and a separate main entrance. Students in the academies wear color-coded uniforms.

According to a report that Destefano gave to the school board last month, Patterson administrators are preparing to take the first step in the reorganization in September by turning two academies into independent schools, one focused on business and the other on sports medicine.

Students said the school has not informed them of the plans or sought their input.

"They call us young adults, but we ... have no say-so," said Angelique Bowers, a junior.

Some students said the school administration tried to prevent yesterday's protest by ordering teachers to keep students inside classrooms at the end of the eighth class period, just before rally organizers had planned to march out at 3 p.m. Patterson's school day ends at 3:35 p.m.

Patterson High School Principal Laura D'Anna could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Tiara Davenport, a senior on the girls varsity softball team, said she and other athletes were excused from class because they had afternoon games.

Chanting "We won't go" and carrying protest banners, members of the girls softball and boys lacrosse teams and other students walked on the sidewalk outside the school. Security guards and school police officers stood watch nearby.

About 15 minutes after the rally began, an administrator corralled the students back inside.

Roger Wrenn, the school's athletic director, said he is concerned that the system's top officials - many of whom were hired within the past two years - might not know what is best for Patterson.

"I've been here through some bad times, and right now is not a bad time," said Wrenn, who has coached football at the school for 31 years.

Bill Miller, an alumnus who graduated from Patterson in 1950, said he plans to fight any attempt to do away with the Patterson name. Destefano said he sympathizes with the community's desire to maintain the school's identity. He said small schools that are created in future reorganizations would carry new names that incorporate the original school's name.

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