School moves to improve

Woodlawn Middle to implement enhancement plan

March 21, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY .. | LIZ F. KAY ..,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore County school system is not waiting to move forward with a plan to improve Woodlawn Middle School.

The school is still in the midst of state tests that will determine whether the State Department of Education will require all staff reapply for their jobs and commit to an extended school day and year and other changes.

But county school system officials said they're putting the plan into motion because even if Woodlawn Middle's 760 children reach state performance goals this year, there's no guarantee future middle-schoolers will be able to meet ever-rising targets.

"We have a process in place to move the school and the community in a manner that the students and the community deserves," said Manuel Rodriguez, the southwest area assistant superintendent.

The decision brings relief to some parents who have long been concerned about pupils' performance. "After five years, you better believe I feel good," said Woodlawn Middle's PTA president, Sam Macer.

The school is the first in Baltimore County to reach this stage of the school improvement process established by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Because Woodlawn Middle's pupils did not meet standards on state reading and math tests in 2003 and 2005, the school system drafted a restructuring plan.

About 15 schools in Baltimore City and in Prince George's County have established "alternative governance plans," as they are also known, this year.

County school board members approved the Woodlawn Middle plan in January, and proposed that $8.04 million be set aside to pay for the changes. The State Board of Education approved the plan this month.

Friday was the deadline for instructors to decide whether they wanted to stay at the school. It was also the last day for teachers within the county school system to declare their interest, said Principal Brian W. Scriven.

He was reappointed to his post along with three assistant principals at last week's county school board meeting. A fourth assistant principal and department chairmen and chairwomen also have been chosen, Scriven said.

The principal said last week that about 80 percent of the 112 staff members had applied to stay.

Teachers at Woodlawn Middle and other schools that are low-performing or that have large numbers of poor children have not been allowed to transfer in the past unless there was a "highly qualified" replacement.

Under the plan, teachers, school counselors and others at Woodlawn Middle would receive $5,000 in incentive pay, according to a job description that was posted on the Baltimore County school system's Web site. They would earn money for after-school tutoring, professional development and summer programs.

Support staff, including administrative assistants, instructional assistants and custodians, would receive $2,500, Rodriguez said. Incentives for administrators have not been determined, he said.

Cheryl Bost, president of the county teachers union, said that while some teachers are excited about the challenge, for others "there's a lot of apprehension - `Should I reapply when I don't know what I'm reapplying to?'"

The plan calls for creating a college-preparatory academy at Woodlawn. Children who score at the advanced and proficient levels on state tests will be coached to handle Advanced Placement courses later on, Scriven said. Those who need to build basic skills will get two hours each of reading and math, he said.

These academic changes also coincide with a face-lift for the school's facilities. The county school system has requested nearly $8.4 million in its proposed capital budget to renovate Woodlawn Middle. Rodriguez said construction will start this summer.

Some lessons will be taught in 12 to 14 portable classrooms next year while contractors work in the building. "It's going to have a new facade and a new perception with higher expectations for each and every child to reach, based upon the potential that all kids have," Rodriguez said.

The school will improve its technology offerings through the renovations, Scriven said. In addition to new flooring, new siding and new windows, the school will get an additional computer lab, bringing the total to four.

But the challenge through this week remains the Maryland School Assessments.

"We've been shooting high, and we'll see what happens," Scriven said.

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