Plan to transfer pair of teachers raises ire

Start-up city high school is in an uproar

October 27, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN REPORTER

Staff and administrators at a start-up Baltimore high school are in an uproar over news that the city school system plans to transfer two of its teachers midway through the academic year.

The system routinely transfers teachers in October based on the enrollment of its schools a month after classes begin. Officials say the Academy for College and Career Exploration is staffed for 300 students, but 260 are enrolled. Therefore, it makes sense - and it is the system's policy - to transfer the extra teachers to schools that need them.

But leaders at ACCE, in its third year of operation, say it is not that simple.

Until this year, ACCE was in the Dr. Samuel L. Banks high school complex in Northeast Baltimore. To make more efficient use of space, the school board decided to close that complex, moving ACCE several miles away, to the Robert Poole Middle School building in Hampden.

Over the summer, the school lost about 40 of its students who live near the Banks complex and did not want to travel to Hampden. ACCE officials say they asked the system if they could fill those slots by accepting some of the hundreds of students who had applied to attend ACCE but were turned down for lack of space. The system said no.

Now, ACCE officials say it is unfair to penalize them.

"It's devastating, absolutely devastating," said Marion W. Pines, director of the Sar Levitan Center for Policy Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, a partner in running the school. "My school is in a state of hysteria."

If a school as small as ACCE loses two teachers, Pines said, the entire class schedule will have to be redone, and class sizes will increase. And, she added, many teachers who came specifically to work in the start-up school environment - and are trained in a different curriculum than other city schools use - would not stay in the system otherwise.

"It's pencil-pushing without any thought of what this is doing," she said.

But system officials say they cannot ensure equity if they do not hold all schools to the same teacher-student ratios.

The city is trying to reform its high schools by breaking up large campuses and sending students instead of small schools where they can get more personal attention. ACCE is part of a cadre of new "innovation high schools," which are small, experiment with creative curriculum and accept students from around the city. They often partner with outside institutions, such as Hopkins.

ACCE opened in 2004 with a class of 100 freshmen and has added an additional class each year. Next year, it will have a senior class for the first time, meaning it will need to start hiring new teachers by March.

Christopher Maher, the school's founding principal, called the plan to transfer teachers now "unconscionable."

"The students of ACCE did not decide to close the Samuel Banks complex," said Maher, now the director of Supporting Public Schools of Choice, an advocacy group for innovation and charter schools. "To uproot them to a new neighborhood halfway across the city and then to say, `Not enough of you came, so now we're taking away your teachers,' what message is that sending?"

School system officials referred specific questions about ACCE to Chief Academic Officer Linda Chinnia, who could not be reached for comment last night.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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