Baltimore set to add four charter schools

Numbers of charter schools will increase to 16


Next month, two new charter schools are scheduled to open in Baltimore, one an elementary school focused on environmental education and the other a high school teaching biotechnology.

In addition, two city schools will convert to charters, which are public but operate independently, bringing the number of such schools in Baltimore to 16, far more than in any other jurisdiction in the state.

The schools are among eight charters scheduled to open in Maryland for the 2006-2007 school year. They will bring the number of state charter schools to 23, according to the Maryland Charter School Network.

"We're really excited about having these new schools join our system," said David Stone, the city's director of charter schools.

Maryland's charter school movement is not as far along as most other states. Around the country, communities are looking to charter schools to offer ways to improve student achievement as they are freed from many bureaucratic requirements.

Proponents say charter schools push regular public schools to do better by creating competition. Opponents argue that charters take resources from regular schools.

Tuesday night, the city school board approved three-year contracts with the four charter schools while reviewing the mixed performance of the 12 charters that opened in last year. The charter schools had better attendance and lower rates of suspension and expulsion than the school system average, but academic performance fluctuated. The schools have demographics similar to those in the system overall.

The city's new schools will be the Green School of Baltimore City and the Maryland Academy of Technology and Health Sciences. Rosemont Elementary and ConneXions Community Leadership Academy will convert.

Run by a group of city teachers, the Green School will open with 60 pupils in kindergarten through second grade, focusing on project-based environmental education. It will temporarily operate in a church in Remington but will need a bigger space as it expands to serve 240 children in kindergarten through fifth grade.

MATHS, a high school with a biotechnology focus, will start with 120 eighth-graders and expand to serve 600 students in grades eight through 12. It will work with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

MATHS is also opening in a temporary location: Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy, scheduled to close in 2008. For the coming school year, it will operate alongside Roland Patterson and KIPP Ujima Village Academy, another charter school.

Officials asked MATHS to find a location in West Baltimore so it would not compete with Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. Dunbar has academic admissions requirements; MATHS - like all charter schools - does not.

The school board's vice chairwoman, Jerrelle Francois, voted against the contracts for the Green School and MATHS, expressing concerns about the cost efficiency of operating such small schools. Board member George VanHook abstained from voting.

Board approval was unanimous for Rosemont and ConneXions.

Rosemont, operated by Coppin State University, will add grades seven and eight to become a elementary and middle school. Officials said it has gone from one of the lowest-performing schools in the city to one meeting state performance goals on standardized tests. The school's expected enrollment for the coming year is 474.

ConneXions, a middle school run by the Baltimore Teacher Network with an art emphasis, will expand to grades six through 12. It will serve 160 pupils this year, with enrollment growing to 350.

Next school year, the city school system will provide charter schools with $5,859 per pupil. But officials said the system will spend an equivalent of $10,315 for each child when services such as special education, school security and employee benefits, are included. The existing charter schools, which received $5,300 per pupil last school year, have complained that funding is inadequate.

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