Board votes to shut 2 city schools

Highlandtown, Patterson among 16 slated to close

April 07, 2006|By SARA NEUFELD | SARA NEUFELD,SUN REPORTER

The Baltimore school board voted last night to close Highlandtown Middle School this summer and Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy by 2008.

Highlandtown's pupils will be sent to Canton, Lombard and Paul Laurence Dunbar middle schools. Starting this summer, Roland Patterson will no longer accept new sixth-graders.

Some of the current fifth-graders who would have attended one of the two middle schools will instead stay in their elementary schools, as the city school system makes a major transition away from traditional middle schools and expands several elementaries to children through eighth grade.

Delaying Roland Patterson's closure by two years, rather than closing it this summer as initially proposed, buys more time to find a new location for KIPP Ujima Village Academy, a charter school that currently shares a campus with Roland Patterson.

There are no plans to close KIPP, one of the few successful middle schools in the city, but it is not yet known where the school will relocate.

Highlandtown and Roland Patterson are among 16 city school buildings slated to close over the next two years.

The votes to close the two schools were unanimous although two board members were absent; one was George VanHook, who dissented on last week's school closure decisions.

The school board voted last week to close the Southwestern High School complex, the Dr. Samuel L. Banks complex and Elmer A. Henderson Elementary this summer, and Harlem Park Middle by 2008.

It also approved a long-term plan outlining more schools to close in the next two years, as well as schools it wants to renovate and rebuild in the coming decade.

The votes on Highlandtown and Roland Patterson were delayed a week to accommodate public concerns about where Highlandtown pupils would be sent and when Roland Patterson would close, said city school board Chairman Brian D. Morris.

The city school system has space for 125,000 students, but only 85,000 students are enrolled. The state has threatened to withhold construction money if the system does not start operating more efficiently. As a result, the school board committed to reducing its operating space by 15 percent, or 2.7 million square feet, by 2008.

The changes approved for this summer would reduce operating space by 5 percent, affecting about 4,800 pupils.

Thousands more will be affected in the coming years, as the school system moves several schools to different buildings in an attempt to operate more efficiently.

One of the schools slated to relocate in the next two years is Laurence G. Paquin Middle/High School for pregnant girls and teen mothers.

Paquin supporters are fighting its planned move from its own building to a wing of the Lake Clifton High School complex, saying the school - which offers a variety of social services to young mothers and their babies - would be unable to operate there.

Roland Patterson is one of 11 city schools to be turned over to a third-party operator or converted into a charter school under action ordered last week by the state school board.

The General Assembly immediately passed legislation to delay the takeovers by a year, but Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to veto the legislation and it is unclear whether there will be enough votes to override the veto.

If the takeovers are allowed to proceed as originally scheduled, it is unclear what will happen at Roland Patterson, which would be in its last year of operation by the time the new school management takes effect.

Board Vice Chairwoman Jerrelle Francois said she would like to see another city school named after Roland N. Patterson, who headed the system from 1971 to 1975.

Patterson came to Baltimore from Seattle. He proposed major reforms for the system but was fired by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer.sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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