Principal disputes prediction of trouble

Plan to relocate school raises fears

February 26, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

For weeks, the students and staff of Augusta Fells Savage Institute for Visual Arts have been hearing the doomsday predictions: If they're moved into the same building that houses an innovation school run by the Johns Hopkins University, they're sure to cause trouble.

Augusta Fells Savage's principal, Angelique Simpson Marcus, says her students are tired of the criticism and she insists that the proposed move - part of the city school system's plan to close buildings - could benefit students in both schools.

"My feeling is, if we were to move into that space, there are a lot of programs that we could replicate for Augusta Fells," Marcus said. "We could learn from each other. This could be a positive influence on the curriculum piece of it."

Brandon Golston, an Augusta Fells Savage sophomore, dismisses the predictions of trouble.

"Our students are no different than their students. I think it's a good decision and a good move. I don't think it will be a problem at all," he said of the proposed move.

The city school board is slated to vote tomorrow on a proposal to move Augusta Fells Savage from the Southwestern High School building to the Harlem Park complex. Talent Development High School, a public school managed by Hopkins, is located there and its principal, Jeffrey Robinson, opposes the move. He says the Augusta Fells Savage students would fight with the Talent Development students, and he has threatened to quit if the board approves the proposal.

But Marcus said fights among the students would not be an overwhelming problem.

"High school kids fight, that's just the nature of who they are," Marcus said. "Will there be some fights? Yeah. But does that mean our kids fight more than his kids? He [Robinson] has the same discipline issues we have."

She pointed out that the students from both schools have a lot in common because many of them come from the same West Baltimore neighborhoods. Ten students who once attended Talent Development now go to Augusta Fells Savage, she said.

Talent Development has gained national attention as a model for successful urban schools. It relies on relatively small class sizes, nurturing and advanced teaching techniques to improve attendance, discipline and test scores, and to lower dropout rates. Students apply for admission and are chosen by lottery.

Robinson maintains that Talent Development's relationship with Hopkins, and the benefits that go with it, is bound to stir resentment from the Augusta Fells Savage students.

Augusta Fells Savage is a neighborhood school, and most of its students did not meet state standards in reading and mathematics.

The proposal to close Southwestern and relocate Augusta Fells Savage comes as the city school board is in the midst of reducing the system's operating space by 15 percent over three years. State schools officials have threatened to cut off money to the city for school construction and renovations if the system does not start operating more efficiently.

City schools officials have made closing Southwestern a priority after failing a year ago to do so. An alternative school that shares the space with Augusta Fells Savage is being phased out.

What to do with Augusta Fells Savage has become one of the system's biggest headaches, schools officials acknowledged.

After a series of community meetings, an education committee recommended in January moving Augusta Fells Savage into the Harlem Park complex, which also houses an elementary/middle school.

Talent Development administrators say the additional 700 students from Augusta Fells Savage would create chaos in the building. Initially, Robinson threatened to quit if the move is approved, but he later said he could tolerate it if Augusta Fells Savage's enrollment is cut in half.

This marks the second time that a proposal to relocate Augusta Fells Savage has sparked opposition.

Last year, dozens of people turned out at a school board meeting to protest moving Augusta Fells Savage to the Lafayette/Calverton building. Opponents said the proposed move would trigger gang conflicts and expose young children to violence.

The protesters drew support from several politicians including City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, and the proposal was eventually voted down by the city school board.

Augusta Fells Savage's fate was essentially tabled for a year and is now among 10 school closings or relocations set to be voted on tomorrow.

Marcus says the proposals to relocate the school have damaged student morale.

"It's a very difficult process. And it hurts. It hurts educators and it hurts the community," she said.

On a recent afternoon, a half dozen Augusta Fells Savage students talked about the image of their school. The students, with uniform shirts neatly tucked into khaki pants, said the school can't escape the former Southwestern High's shadow and all the negative connotations that entails.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.