School staff told to reapply for jobs

Poor performance by Annapolis High students is noted by superintendent

January 25, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,sun reporter

No one was spared.

Cafeteria workers. Teachers. School secretaries. The principal. All 193 staff members at Annapolis High School must reapply for their jobs in a drastic step announced yesterday by Superintendent Kevin Maxwell.

It is a radical move that top Anne Arundel County school officials hope will reverse anemic student performance and head off a state takeover they fear is in the future of their flagship high school.

FOR THE RECORD - An article Thursday incorrectly reported how and when Baltimore City schools restructured low-performing schools. Over the past three years, the city school system has required the entire staff to reapply for their jobs at three schools: Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle, Thurgood Marshall Middle and Calverton Middle. The system has also done partial staff replacements at other schools. The Sun regrets the errors.

Annapolis High, which has about 1,700 students, has failed to meet state and federal benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind Act four years in a row.

"There are a lot of great things going on at Annapolis High, but it's just not broad enough or deep enough," Maxwell said. "Next year, if they don't make it again, they could face state intervention. I'd rather be in control of the destiny of Annapolis High than have the state or someone else step in."

The school has struggled with poor reading test scores among low-income students and lagging graduation rates among minorities. Those academic hurdles, along with persistent discipline problems - including fights that led to an Annapolis mall shooting around Thanksgiving - have marred the school's reputation in recent years.

Around the nation and the Baltimore area, school superintendents have taken the aggressive step to weed out ineffective staff members at struggling schools.

At Annapolis High, the reform involves not only a staff overhaul, but a longer school year, longer school day and an infusion of support personnel to work closely with teachers and administrators to pinpoint academic trouble spots.

Last year, the Baltimore system forced the staff at three schools to reapply for their positions. In Baltimore County, the staff at Woodlawn Middle had to do the same. But other school districts have tried to stave off the option by replacing principals, certain teachers and administrators.

Though rumors of a staff overhaul had been spreading for weeks, teachers and staff at Annapolis High say they were stunned to hear the news yesterday afternoon.

Even Principal Donald Lilley was alerted about the superintendent's announcement only an hour before the rest of his staff was summoned to the cafeteria for a sudden, end-of-the-day meeting with Maxwell.

"It's demoralizing," said Lilley, who told a reporter that he shuttered himself in his office for more than an hour after the meeting. "I did a lot of praying. The first thing you think about is, `What could I have done better? What could I have done differently?' I'm going to go home and think and talk to my family."

Teachers and staff said the superintendent was brusque and left no time for questions or discussion.

"He raced out of there. I felt very disappointed," said Lidia Smithers, an English and French teacher who has worked at the school since it opened in 1979.

"Where is the proof that teachers were to blame for this?" she said. "Does [the superintendent] think we can fix socioeconomic factors? Do we have control over families that don't put a premium on education? Over families that don't have health care and send their children to school without meals? Why are teachers being blamed for all of this? Do you blame your doctor if you have cancer? Is it Giant Food's fault if I'm fat?"

Over the next week, Maxwell said, teachers will receive information about how to reapply for their jobs. Meanwhile, the superintendent and his staff will talk with Lilley about returning to the school. If an agreement is not reached, officials will consider other candidates for the job and plan to have a principal in place by mid- to late February. Staff members not rehired at Annapolis High will be eligible for openings at other Anne Arundel schools.

Reform is an elusive goal at Annapolis High, a place where two worlds collide, those who work there said yesterday.

One world is filled with students from upper-middle-class homes whose parents help them with homework and come to the school regularly to talk with teachers. They're students like the ones on a math team that placed first in a county event this month, or study in the International Baccalaureate program, now in its fourth year.

But the other world draws students from 11 of the city's public housing units. It draws from parents who work two jobs and struggle to make ends meet, let alone come to school to help their children do better in class. For those students, Annapolis High has launched extensive after-school and weekend tutoring programs.

It hasn't been enough.

Half of the African-American boys who start ninth grade at Annapolis High graduate in four years, according to data from the Maryland Department of Education Among the growing Hispanic population, the graduation rate among males is lower: 44 percent. The school has also had consistently low reading test scores among its low-income students - only 26 percent proficient on state reading tests.

"That is unacceptable," Maxwell said. "Some children are very, very successful there, but that's not true for all children. We want out schools to serve all children."

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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