The proposal to take over 11 failing city schools perplexes a number of students, teachers, alumni

Struggling to understand


City Schools Takeover


As students, teachers, administrators and alumni struggled yesterday to understand the ramifications of the proposed takeover of 11 failing Baltimore public schools, many expressed pride in their institutions and frustration that their schools are being targeted.

"I think it's a very terrible idea. The state has not looked at what our school has done," said Malachi Hammonds, a senior at Patterson High School and the former student government president. "Our school has improved more than any other neighborhood school. Our test scores have risen and are still rising.

"I don't know how our name got on that list. I think it's a political game altogether."

The school isn't without problems - the building needs improvement and many textbooks are in bad condition, he said.

"But overall, we're making ends meet," he said. "I don't think the state will do a better job. They'll bring in a corporation, phase out everything and take our principals away."

Saul Benitez, a sophomore at Patterson's Sports, Health and Human Services Academy - one of four schools on the campus - was equally perplexed.

"I think it's ridiculous because our school is doing a good job," he said. "I think it's like the best city school. Everything is in order. It's a mistake. We like it the way it is."

Benitez moved to the United States from El Salvador a year and a half ago and wants to become a pediatrician. Though he spoke almost no English when he arrived, he has virtually mastered the language - due in part to help from an English teacher.

"We have the best teachers," he said.

In January, hundreds of Patterson students walked out of their classrooms to protest the possibility that the school might close as part of a cost-saving plan. After the strong show of support, city school officials removed Patterson from the preliminary list of schools being considered for closure.

Patterson Principal Laura D'Anna declined yesterday to comment on the takeover move. She drew support from some of the students at the school, on the city's east side near Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

"Ms. D'Anna is doing a good job," said Antonio Foster, 16. "We can't do what we want to. Patterson is not that type of school. We've got to follow the rules."

His friend Tijuna Boyd echoed what many were murmuring yesterday. "If the state is going to take over - if they're not going to give us more money, there's no need," she said.

At Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore, copies of The Sun's article highlighting the takeover proposal were available at the school's main office, and word trickled through the halls during the day.

Douglass and Patterson are among four high schools on the takeover list, along with seven middle schools.

Yesterday, students at Douglass, which boasts of a list of distinguished graduates that includes the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, were confused about what the state's involvement would mean - and were divided over what effect it could have.

"I think it's for the better if they're saying they're going to give us better programs, better after-school programs," freshman Avon Parker said.

"As a school as a whole, I feel like it's fine," said Courtney Johnson, a sophomore. "Is it a safe environment here? I wouldn't necessarily say. But at the same time, it's cool. We don't have that much drama in our school."

Joseph Smith, who graduated from Douglass in 1953 and is the president of the school's alumni association, said the proposed takeover was "disturbing."

"I believe the state is part of the problem because it never funded the school as it should have," he said.

Smith said he had been encouraged by negotiations, already under way, to run the school in conjunction with Coppin State University, but yesterday's news worried him.

"We would resist any total takeover," he said. "What we want is a total partnership."

In February, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele spent nearly three hours at Douglass and added his support for a plan that Coppin take over the school's management.

Steele, in Baltimore yesterday to support the Sudan Freedom Walk, stood by that proposal.

"Douglass is of particular concern to me," Steele said. "We're continuing our efforts. We've got a small working group now that is in place that are doing a number of things to look at our options here to help this school. We're going to continue that effort and let the rest of it play out to see how the governor and superintendent and the city system as a whole responds to these latest events."

He declined to comment on other affected schools, saying he was awaiting a briefing by state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.