School reforms set

$21 million effort targets middle grades in city

broader plan to come


... Baltimore school officials announced yesterday $21 million in small initiatives for the middle grades that include reducing class size, setting up athletic teams and providing more counseling.

Yesterday's list set the stage for a major announcement May 23, when Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland is to release a blueprint for a multiyear reform of the middle schools.

School leaders said they were focusing on middle schools after having launched a reform of the elementaries in 1997 and of the high schools in 2000. Middle schools have often languished in Baltimore and in urban centers across the nation without a clear vision as to how to improve them.

Less than 50 percent of pupils in the city are proficient in reading, and less than a quarter of seventh- and eighth-graders are proficient in math.

An analysis of the scores indicates that pupils score higher when they stay in one school from elementary through middle school, Copeland said. The school system is beginning to convert 18 more elementary schools to K-8 schools next year, adding to the existing 32 K-8 schools.

Copeland and school board President Brian Morris said they believed some of the young adolescents in the city need more social and psychological counseling services. As a result, they will provide at least one more social worker and a guidance counselor for every school. Currently, most social workers and school psychologists work exclusively with special education pupils.

All middle school pupils will be offered basketball in the winter and track and field in the spring after school. Debate clubs and student government associations also will be started for middle schoolers.

"This is not Frederick County. This is not Howard County. This is Baltimore City," said Morris. "We have to support our students and wrap our arms around them."

School leaders are moving to increase the academic rigor of middle schools in the city and toward that end will offer every eighth-grader the option of taking Algebra I in middle school rather than high school. Algebra I is standard for eighth-graders in many suburban counties.

One problem for the middle schools has been the number of pupils who were held back several years ago, when the school board had strict promotion standards. Some pupils were held back more than one year, and the schools have ended up with 11-year-olds and 16-year-olds in the same building. The system will create two schools to handle older students who want to get to high school faster.

The details of the middle school plan were announced yesterday at a news conference at Calverton Middle, one of the seven failing middle schools state officials had ordered turned into charters or given to a third party to operate in the next 18 months. But the plans are on hold because the Maryland General Assembly quickly put a moratorium on the action. Several legislators came to the news conference.

The school's principal, Marjorie Miles, said she intended to rely more on resources in the community to help her school.

Some of initiatives had already been announced, such as adding academic coaches and reducing class size by two or three students in math and language arts. Those are the subjects students must pass on the Maryland State Assessments. School system officials also said they would provide mentors for new teachers and free breakfasts for all

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