City principal threatens to quit position

Talent Development head is protesting plan to move 700 students into complex

February 06, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

The principal of Baltimore Talent Development High School has threatened to quit if his staff and students are forced to share a building with 700 students from a school that's slated for relocation as part of the latest round of school closings.

On Feb. 27, the city school board is scheduled to vote on the second of three annual rounds of school closings. One of the proposals calls for moving Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts to the West Baltimore complex that houses Talent Development, which is a nationally renowned school run in partnership with the Johns Hopkins University.

Jeffrey Robinson, Talent Development principal, predicted that there would be fights among Talent Development and Augusta Fells Savage students if they are placed in the same building this fall. He said Talent Development's relationship with Johns Hopkins would make some Augusta Fells Savage students jealous and result in friction.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption accompanying an article in the Maryland section yesterday about Talent Development High School in Baltimore misidentified Sharvez Peterson as a girl. THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

Talent Development relies on relatively small class sizes, nurturing and advanced teaching techniques to improve attendance, discipline and test scores, and lower dropout rates. Students apply for admission and are chosen by lottery.

Augusta Fells Savage is in the Southwestern High School complex, but city schools officials are planning to close the building this summer.

Attempts to interview Augusta Fells Savage staff and students were unsuccessful.

Robinson said he visited Augusta Fells last year and was "appalled" by the conditions there. He said it was noisy and disorderly and "did not look like much of a school."

Robinson said he was concerned that sharing the building with Augusta Savage students would be a setback for Talent Development's students and staff.

"I really think that I'm going to resign if they come," he said. "I know who I am, and I'm not going to tolerate kids disrespecting me in the building, regardless of what school you belong to. And I know that because of how I am, and because of how they are, they're not going to respect the way I am."

Robinson said he wants the school board to push back its vote on moving Augusta Fells Savage to the Harlem Park complex, the location of Talent Development, until an alternative can be found. He said he has been lobbying political and community leaders to drum up support for his idea. Talent Development opened in 2004 and is set to graduate its first class next year.

Edie House, a city school system spokeswoman, said Robinson voiced his concerns recently over the proposed move and his possible departure with Charlene Cooper Boston, interim chief executive officer of city schools. House said she was not privy to the outcome of their conversation.

"We're hopeful this whole issue will be resolved, and everyone will come to the table with clear heads," House said. "We're a family, and we'll work together."

House said the school system will not address Robinson's charges against Augusta Fells Savage students' behavior, and she remains confident the schools and the principals can co-exist.

"I'm pretty sure they can work together," she said.

Faced with declining enrollment, the city school board voted in the fall of 2005 to reduce the system's square footage by 15 percent over three years. The system has space for 125,000 students, but fewer than 85,000 are enrolled.

The decision to reduce space was prompted by the state, which threatened to cut off money for school renovation and construction unless the city school system started operating more efficiently. By closing schools, city school officials say, they will have more money to spend on buildings that remain open.

The committee that made recommendations to the school board about school closings had difficulty finding a new location for Augusta Fells Savage and finally decided to move it into the building with Talent Development.

Thomas Stosur, the school system's senior facilities planner, said at a school board meeting Jan. 23 that deciding the fate of Augusta Fells Savage has probably been "the toughest issue we've had to deal with."

Keith Scroggins, the system's chief operating officer, said steps could be taken to offset concerns about fights and other problems if the Talent Development and Augusta Fells Savage students share the complex.

He said the situation could be held in check by assigning more school police and resource officers to the school. He said he stands by the proposal to relocate Augusta Fells Savage.

"Bottom line is, we must find a suitable location for Augusta Fells Savage," Scroggins said. "We believe this is the best fit and best use of this building."

Augusta Fells Savage continues to be a school that seems to meet resistance at every turn.

Last year, Augusta Fells Savage prompted similar criticism from parents at Lafayette Elementary and Calverton Middle schools after a proposed plan would have put all the schools under the same roof.

When a reporter recently visited Talent Development, some students said they were apprehensive about sharing the building with Augusta Fells Savage students. Victoria Haynes, an 11th-grader, said conflicts between students from the schools would likely arise.

"They don't have the discipline like we do," she said. "They might bring a lot of trouble. I don't think it's a good idea."

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