A welcome school partner

August 26, 2005

LIKE THE cavalry riding in from the West, experts from the California-based Stupski Foundation are coming to help city school officials who have lately been battered and bruised in struggles over special education and charter schools.

Baltimore has certainly benefited from the generosity and expertise of many local and national foundations, and additional help from a new source, as announced this week, is welcome. Stupski is also likely to learn a thing or two, as it has not generally worked with a school system as large or, we daresay, as challenging as Baltimore's.

Created in 1996 by a former Charles Schwab executive and his wife, the Stupski Foundation focuses on improving urban school systems as a way to achieve social and economic justice, working with districts to develop and support systemwide high-quality schools. Stupski's efforts are consistent with a growing trend among many entrepreneurial philanthropists to foster innovation and stimulate fundamental changes in K-12 education, through systemic reform, support for charter schools, parental choice, equal educational opportunity and other methods.

In Baltimore, Stupski will support at least three experienced educators, including a former superintendent in Norfolk, Va., who will work with chief executive Bonnie S. Copeland to improve overall student achievement and narrow Baltimore's achievement gap with other districts in the state. Another member of the Stupski team, who is a former administrator with the Maryland State Department of Education and two state community colleges, could be a valuable bridge between state and city officials as they try to work around a rather fractured relationship.

Stupski experts have helped several districts improve in areas such as staff training, data management and school accountability. During a recent trial period, when Stupski was deciding whether to select Baltimore, foundation staff helped school officials here refine their master plan as well as a blueprint for providing strategic support to low-performing schools.

The foundation's team and city school officials are expected to focus on planning until the end of this year. Then the Stupski team, and other experts as needed, will help implement the plan over four years. This follows the pattern that Stupski has used with nine other school systems, including New Haven, Conn.; Cleveland; and Jackson, Miss. Baltimore will join these other systems in an alliance that encourages districts to support and learn from one another. All in all, the foundation will provide at least $10 million in services to Baltimore schools, and - it is hoped - the schools and the foundation will benefit from a mutually enriching partnership.

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