West-side school closings decried

250 at hearing, a number of whom protest plan to shutter or relocate city high schools

March 09, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

Students from west-side Baltimore high schools that are scheduled to close or be relocated turned out in force at a hearing last night to oppose the changes.

In the auditorium at the Southwestern High School complex, dozens of them held up signs with messages including "Save Our Schools and Get Rid of the Fools at North Avenue," referring to the city schools headquarters.

At least 250 people attended last night's hearing, the second of three scheduled this week on school closures. The school system is under pressure from the state to close schools in the face of declining enrollment and deteriorating building conditions. The system has space for 125,000 students, but only 85,000 are enrolled.

Five of the nine city school board members attended the hearing, after only two attended the first session Monday night. Members George VanHook and Douglas Kington attended both hearings; they were joined last night by board Chairman Brian D. Morris and members James Campbell and Diane Bell McKoy. The board will vote on the proposed changes March 28.

Dozens of students from Harbor City West, an alternative high school, came to protest the proposed discontinuation of their school, which would disappear when its building is taken over this summer by the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. Thomas is one of four small high schools in the Southwestern complex, which is slated to close.

"My students are fragile," said Harbor City Principal Al Thompson. "Move, change, I'm going to lose them."

Brian Johnson, 17, talked about how Harbor City is turning his life around. "I messed up," he said. "I failed. No one believed in me. ... I'm proving them wrong."

Parents, teachers and students from the Thomas school, meanwhile, described the deplorable conditions in its current quarters, including overheated classrooms and bathroom stalls without doors. But they questioned where students will play sports in the Harbor City building.

The other three small high schools inside Southwestern would move to extra space in middle school buildings, while the original Southwestern High, School No. 412, would move to Benjamin Franklin Junior High School until all of its current students graduate and then it would be closed.

Arrietta Dorsey, whose son attends the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts at Southwestern, spoke vehemently against mixing high school students with younger children at Calverton Middle, where that high school is scheduled to move. She said she is especially worried about middle school girls interacting with high school boys.

Many students protested the proposed relocation of Talent Development High School, on the campus of Harlem Park Middle School, which is scheduled to close in 2008. Talent Development Principal Jeffrey Robinson outlined hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in recent years to improve its space at Harlem Park. In addition, speakers talked about the many social services, including a Health Department clinic, now available on the Harlem Park campus.

Last night's session focused on the west-side schools; the final hearing, focusing on the entire plan for school closures, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Polytechnic Institute, 1400 W. Cold Spring Lane. In addition, the school board is accepting written comments through March 20 at betterschools@bcps.k12.md.us.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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