Sweeping overhaul OK'd for schools

City board votes to close 7, give Towson University control of 4, restructure 3 failing high schools

February 28, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

The changes — In sweeping changes for public education in Baltimore, the city school board voted last night to close seven schools, reconfigure or move others and place four schools under the control of Towson University.

The changes -- which also include the restructuring of three failing high schools -- address issues that include deteriorating buildings, under-enrollment, poor student achievement and state pressure to operate more efficiently. They will take place over a two-year period.

Over the objections of some parents and community leaders, the changes included moving Augusta Fells Savage Institute for the Visual Arts into the same building with Talent Development High School, a highly acclaimed innovation school managed by the Johns Hopkins University.

Moving Augusta Fells Savage to the Harlem Park complex in West Baltimore was the most contentious issue. The complex also houses Harlem Park Elementary/Middle and Harlem Park Middle, which will close this summer or next.

Jeffrey Robinson, the principal of Talent Development, originally threatened to quit if the board approved the move. Robinson maintained that Augusta Fells Savage students will fight with the Talent Development students. He said friction would be inevitable because Augusta Fells Savage students would resent being in the same building with students attending a school run by Hopkins.

After the vote last night, Robinson said he will stay at Talent Development to see his first class graduate next summer. Beyond that, he said, he is unsure whether he will remain in the area.

"I'm just disappointed. But in my job interview, I said I would stay at least four years," Robinson said. "I'll graduate that first class, but I think my days in Baltimore after that are numbered."

Angelique Simpson-Marcus, principal at Augusta Fells Savage, praised the board's decision and said she will work with Robinson to make the transition seamless.

At a hearing Feb. 17, the proposed move drew sharp criticism from parents, teachers and community residents, some expressing concern that it would cause crowding at Harlem Park.

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

Augusta Fells Savage is a neighborhood school situated at the huge Southwestern High building, which it shares with an alternative school. Most Augusta Fells Savage students do not meet state standards in reading and mathematics.

Last night, three Augusta Fells Savage students spoke on behalf of their school, expressing to the board a desire for a larger voice in deciding where to move the school.

Plans call for closing the Southwestern building after Augusta Fells Savage moves and the alternative school is disbanded at the end of this school year.

In other moves, the board voted to:

Close Pimlico Middle this fall. Incoming eight-graders will go to Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy Middle, and seventh-graders will go to Pimlico Elementary or Garrison Middle. Sixth-graders will remain at Grove Park or Arlington elementary schools, both of which will be converted to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Close the Thomas G. Hayes Elementary program this fall. Students will be rezoned to Dr. Bernard Harris, Johnston Square, City Springs, Dr. Rayner Browne, Tench Tilghman and Commodore John Rodgers elementary schools. The Hayes building will remain open for two more years and be used for swing space during the renovation of adjacent Paul Laurence Dunbar High.

Close the Dr. Lillie M. Jackson special education facility this summer. A small alternative school there will move to Hilton Elementary.

Close Lafayette Elementary this summer. It will merge with Calverton Middle to become an elementary/middle school next school year. Both schools are housed at Calverton.

Close Southeast Middle in the summer of 2008. There will be no sixth grade in the fall. Eighth-graders in the 2008-2009 academic year will attend Canton Middle or Holabird Elementary. Holabird would add sixth grade and convert to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Close Lombard Middle in the summer of 2009. There will be no sixth grade in the fall. Students from Cecil, Johnston Square, Thomas G. Hayes and Dr. Bernard Harris elementaries who were previously scheduled to go to Lombard will feed into Dunbar Middle.

Close Canton Middle in the summer of 2009. There will be no sixth grade there next school year. William Paca and Highlandtown elementary schools, feeder schools for Canton, will add sixth grades and convert to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

The board delayed votes on closing Thurgood Marshall and Hamilton middle schools, which were originally on the proposed list. Changes in the original proposal will require additional public hearings, schools officials said.

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