Stupski recommitting

Foundation re-evaluates, keeps link to city schools

November 24, 2006|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

There was much fanfare in August last year when the California-based Stupski Foundation, which strives to improve education for poor and minority children, announced a partnership with the Baltimore school system.

The foundation said it intended to send experts to work in the city schools for three to four years, providing services worth at least $10 million to strengthen the system's leadership. But when schools Chief Executive Officer Bonnie S. Copeland and several other senior staff members stepped down this summer, Stupski officials began to rethink that commitment.

Now, after more than three months observing interim CEO Charlene Cooper Boston, they say the partnership is back on track and that they have much work to do.

In the spring, shortly before Copeland's departure, Stupski evaluated the city school system's organization, rating on a 1-to-5 scale areas that the foundation says are critical for reform. Four of the seven areas rated received the lowest score, 1. Three received a 2, somewhat better but still deficient.

The areas in which the system was most deficient and received a 1 were:

Leadership. In a report presented recently to the city school board, Stupski says system leaders should be "visionary" and "results-oriented."

Curriculum and teaching. The foundation says children should be taught the material they'll be tested on, and teaching should be "powerful."

"Stellar people." Stupski was looking for "stellar teachers, [school] board members, leaders and support staff who are continuously learning and growing."

Effective and efficient business practices.

The system was rated a 2 in the areas of strategic planning, community engagement, and student and staff accountability.

The foundation works with the system to try to make improvements in those areas.

Stupski, created in 1996 by a former Charles Schwab executive and his wife, selects the school systems it wants to work with and then sends teams of experts there. It has teams in 12 systems nationwide, from New Haven, Conn., to Jackson, Miss.

Because the foundation's work focuses heavily on improving a system's leadership, Stupski usually will not continue working in a system with turnover at the top. This summer, that was the case in Baltimore.

"We have to be sure that the leadership is committed to a very ambitious and very transparent agenda," said Ronald L. Epps, who leads a team of four veteran educators assigned by Stupski to work in the city schools. "It was only good business sense for us to pull back and determine that our investment was going to have some likelihood of producing the intended outcomes."

Boston said she was able to persuade the foundation to stay through "honest sharing of my passions and my beliefs." She said some of the reforms Stupski wanted to implement in Baltimore were things she had done in her previous job, as superintendent in Wicomico County.

Now that the partnership is back on track, Epps said, he and his team are working to help the system hold its employees accountable for student achievement, to use data to drive decision-making, and to follow through with reforms. They are also working to help the school board form and implement a vision for the system, and to improve community involvement.

In addition to Epps' team, Stupski sends experts in testing, technology and other subjects as needed for specific projects. For example, it has paid for an expert in the reading curriculum the system uses to conduct training sessions for staff.

Between now and the end of the school year in June, Stupski says it plans to spend $979,000 on the city school system. Other foundations have been identified to contribute an additional $1.2 million toward the work, bringing the total to $2.2 million.

Epps said most of that money will go toward the cost of sending in experts. He said the foundation covers his salary and the salaries of his team members separately.

This fall, Boston said, when the system had to submit a new master plan for academic reform to the State Department of Education, Stupski paid for a consultant to work with her staff for a month to improve the document members were preparing. The foundation also sent in a temporary secretary to help type the document's several hundred pages.

Boston said one of the most valuable parts of the partnership is Stupski's ability to connect her and her senior staff with others in the same positions in other school systems. She said she consults with Epps, who served as a superintendent in Columbia, S.C.

"I think they are making a difference in a way that's nonthreatening," Boston said. "I think they're helping the district do what we say we want to do."

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