School board adopts master plan

Document is designed to serve as a guide to academic reform in Baltimore system

October 12, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

The Baltimore school board approved a new master plan this week to guide academic reform over the next two years, addressing issues including curriculum choices and strategies for recruiting and retaining qualified teachers.

But school system officials have not made the entire plan public, saying it is not complete. Highlights were presented at a school board meeting Tuesday night, including an outline of steps the system is taking to comply with several state-ordered reforms and changes under way at 11 schools targeted by the state this year for outside takeovers.

Officials say they will post the plan on the system's Web site by the end of the day Monday, their deadline for submitting the document to the Maryland State Department of Education. School board members had drafts of the plan, several hundred pages long, in front of them as they voted to approve it Tuesday.

All 24 school systems in Maryland are required under the state's so-called Bridge to Excellence legislation to develop master plans and update them annually. The legislation provides for an additional $1.3 billion a year in public education spending by 2008 in exchange for documentation of how that money is being spent.

Last year, Baltimore's master plan update was the only one that the state education department rejected. The school system resubmitted the plan in March, only for the state to reject it again, calling it unrealistic. At that point, state officials directed the system to start from scratch.

So while Maryland's other 23 school systems will be submitting updates to their master plans Monday, Baltimore is submitting a new plan entirely. The city school system also must hire an independent monitor to evaluate whether it does what it says it will in the plan.

Much of Tuesday's presentation about the plan focused on curriculum changes. The state ordered the system to adopt curricula in middle and high schools that have proved successful in other Maryland school systems.

The presentation said the system is adopting Anne Arundel County's language arts curriculum for middle schools -- in place of the Studio Course curriculum that was used and scrapped last school year -- and Cecil County's middle school math curriculum. It is also using a high school biology curriculum from Charles County.

The presentation listed reforms at the 11 schools the state targeted in March for takeovers. The General Assembly imposed a one-year moratorium on the takeovers, allowing the system more time to make its own changes. Among those listed: administering quarterly tests in key subjects to gauge students' progress; hiring additional teachers to help students struggling in English and math; and increasing teacher training.

Some parent leaders in Baltimore expressed frustration that they didn't get to see the new master plan before the school board approved it.

"It's so discouraging to me as an involved parent," said James E. Williams Sr., the Parent-Teacher Organization president at Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy and a leader in a movement pushing for the city school board to be elected, rather than appointed by the mayor and governor. "Truthfully, I understand why parents don't participate. We don't have input before a vote is put out."

Michael Carter, chairman of the system's Parent and Community Advisory Board, said administrators presented highlights of the master plan to his group a few weeks ago, but they did not distribute draft copies.

"It should be a public work," Carter said.

Several surrounding school systems have already made copies of their master plan updates public. Carroll County's plan is posted on its Web site. Harford County officials provided a copy of their plan to a reporter upon request yesterday. Anne Arundel County has not supplied copies of its plan to the public yet, but it is available for public review in school system headquarters.

Howard County officials also have made their plan public, but to respond to individual requests for copies, they said, they need a few days to photocopy the 400-page document.

In Baltimore County, officials said their updated plan will be posted on their Web site late next week, at the same time it is sent to the school board. System spokesman Charles A. Herndon said that because this year's revisions to the plan were so minor, the board doesn't need to sign off before it is sent to the state Monday.

Sun reporters John-John Williams IV, Anica Butler, Arin Gencer, and Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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