Vote delayed on restructuring

City school board calls plans for nine low-performing schools incomplete and flawed


The Baltimore school board has postponed a vote on plans to restructure nine low-performing schools, saying the plans that school system officials presented this week are incomplete and riddled with problems.

Board members were especially upset that administrators presented the plans -- which involve replacing principals at several schools and requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs -- only orally, not in writing. Member Kalman R. "Buzzy" Hettleman said he would not approve the plans "based on faith."

Schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland said the system was waiting to learn how the Maryland State Department of Education wants the plans formatted.

System officials said all of the restructuring changes they are proposing are on a list of options outlined by the state, which must approve the plans after the school board does. But board members said the system must pick the reforms that are best for children.

"Because MSDE put something on a list, that is not a reason to choose it," member Diane Bell McKoy said at Tuesday night's school board meeting.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, nine city schools must restructure if students did not show adequate progress on state standardized tests that were administered last month. The test results are not available, but system Chief Academic Officer Linda Chinnia said that most of the changes likely would be implemented regardless of the scores.

The schools can restructure in a variety of ways, including replacing staff members and converting to a charter school.

The city system was planning use the least severe restructuring option, hiring an administrator called a "turnaround specialist" to work with the principal, in seven of the schools. The state rejected that plan, saying more drastic action is required.

At two of the schools, Canton Middle and Thomas G. Hayes Elementary, the city system was planning to require all staff members to reapply for their jobs, a reform that the state had deemed acceptable.

However, system officials now want to replace only the principals at those schools.

Selected staff would be replaced at Ashburton/Nathan Pitts Elementary/Middle School and Highlandtown Elementary School No. 237, based on student achievement data.

The school board must approve the restructuring plans and submit them to the state by May 8. Instead of approving the plans Tuesday, the board will convene a meeting next week.

"We take seriously our responsibility," said school board Chairman Brian D. Morris. "If it takes more time, it takes more time."

Under the proposal, the principals at Harlem Park and Robert Poole middle schools would be suspended, and central office administrators would take their places until the schools close in 2008. Both schools were slated to close as part of an effort to operate more efficiently.

The principals at Canton, Thomas G. Hayes and Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts would be replaced with new principals being trained through New Leaders for New Schools.

New Leaders for New Schools is a national nonprofit seeking to combat the country's principal shortage by training dynamic candidates in an intense yearlong program. In Baltimore, it is expected to produce 40 new principals over three years, with the first candidates ready to be put in charge of schools this summer.

But at Tuesday's school board meeting, member James W. Campbell asked whether those candidates are certified. Chinnia said the system is working with the state to have their certifications approved.

"Our people will be fully certified upon entering the schools," said Peter Kannam, executive director of Baltimore's New Leaders program.

"But you don't know that," Campbell shot back.

Chinnia said yesterday that the three candidates who would go to restructuring schools are certified.

Hettleman criticized the system's plan to implement at Morrell Park Elementary/Middle a program run by the Fund for Educational Excellence, which Copeland headed before she became schools CEO.

The program works with teachers and principals on professional development, but Hettleman said it does not reform a whole school. Copeland said the program has a record of improving student performance.

Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy would work with the Atlanta-based Southern Regional Education Board to implement a high school reform program focusing on preparing students for specific careers.

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