Woodstock Job Corps Center says it can help Balto. Co. schools help dropouts

Charter school application called flawed

November 22, 2005|By LIZ F. KAY .. | LIZ F. KAY ..,SUN REPORTER

The people who run a job-training program at an old seminary in the woods of western Baltimore County say they have a plan to help the public school system help high school dropouts. They say they can teach teenagers and young adults to lay brick or wire a house while guiding them toward a high school diploma.

They want the chance to start Baltimore County's first charter school. But county school officials have not been won over.

A school system committee says the proposal for the federal Woodstock Job Corps Center has significant flaws - and it will present the county school board tonight with its recommendation that the application be turned down. The school board is expected to then vote on the matter.

It has been two years since Maryland joined a charter school movement that has established itself in many parts of the country. The idea is to invest taxpayer dollars, including state and federal grant money, in schools that have the flexibility to reach students in different ways.

Nationwide, more than 1 million students attend more than 3,600 charter schools. About 3,300 children have enrolled at Maryland charter schools, one in Frederick County, two that opened this fall in Anne Arundel County and 12 others in Baltimore. Now Baltimore County is asked to decide whether it should allocate an estimated $2.25 million a year toward a school that would be known as Education Innovations.

Administrators at the Job Corps center say they want to help students who have not succeeded in traditional schools.

"This is about the opportunity and ability to provide further for these Baltimore County residents," said Greg Weber, who is leading the effort to start the school.

But skeptics question whether charter schools are worth the resources they draw from financially stretched public school systems. The Baltimore County school administration's review of the Education Innovations proposal found that it failed to meet criteria for curriculum, special education and facilities. And school system officials worry that too many students from outside the county might sign up.

The 12-member county school board will have the final say. Board President Tom Grzymski said he was reserving judgment until hearing the committee's presentation, but he said, "Certainly there seems to be some definite issues with the application."

On a recent morning, students at the Job Corps center in Woodstock pointed out how they used their newfound skills to support the community and to maintain the campus, on the site of a Jesuit seminary founded in the 1860s. Landscaping students built several fountains that complement the center's setting, surrounded by Patapsco Valley State Park. Culinary arts students cook dinners that welcome new arrivals.

Job Corps programs are for 16- to 24-year-olds who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom have struggled academically. The centers have zero-tolerance policies for drugs and fighting, but those who commit to the program have a motive to behave and learn.

"They know that they messed up high school and know this is their second chance," said culinary arts student Kyle Upchurch, 21, of Gaithersburg.

The center has male and female students. They can study to be nurse's aides, bookkeepers, carpenters or welders while earning General Education Development diplomas. About 11 percent of the 475 students at the center also pursue high school diplomas online. Forming a charter school would enable more students to reach that goal, said Weber.

Weber is the executive director of programs at Adams and Associates Inc. The company in Reno, Nev., runs nine residential Job Corps centers in several states, including Maryland's two centers in Woodstock and Laurel.

Other Job Corps centers across the country house charter schools. The School for Integrated Academics and Technologies, known as SIATech, has 15 schools at Job Corps centers in five states, said Chief Executive Officer Linda C. Dawson.

In Education Innovations' proposal, students could work at their own pace, progressing to higher levels once they demonstrate mastery of the material, Weber said. The trades courses would serve as the electives in a traditional high school program.

The charter school would occupy part of the existing Job Corps center. Planners estimated a cost of about $7,000 for each of the 325 students expected in the first year - a $2.25 million budget.

Weber expects that most of the students would come from the Job Corps center. However, as required by state law, county residents also could apply. Some Job Corps students come from outside the county. Those over the age of 18 who live on site are, in effect, county residents, he said.

In a written report on the charter school application, a school system committee said permitting students whose permanent residence is outside county boundaries to enroll "conflicts with established policy regarding residency and could exclude Baltimore County residents."

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