Towson U gets state's OK to run 3 schools

State action triggers union protest over transfer of city teachers

April 26, 2007|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,[Sun Reporter]

City school officials and leaders of the Baltimore Teachers Union met in a closed-door session yesterday hours after the state school board gave preliminary approval to a plan that would allow Towson University to run three academically troubled Cherry Hill schools.

Under the plan, which is scheduled to come before the board for a final vote next month, Towson would run Dr. Carter G. Woodson, Arundel and Cherry Hill elementary/middle schools. State school board approval was necessary to allow Towson to manage the schools because all three are required to restructure after failing to meet standards on state tests for years. Towson now manages Morrell Park Elementary/Middle and is slated to manage another Cherry Hill school, Patapsco Elementary/Middle.

Sparked by the state school board's action, union officials called for a meeting with city schools administrators to protest the transfer of 49 teachers from those schools as part of the restructuring plan, including 11 from Morrell Park.

After the three-hour meeting, Marietta English, co-president of the union, called the transfer policy "unfair and unjust," and said many of the teachers, including the majority at Morrell Park, want to remain at their schools.

English said city schools officials have agreed to review the cases of individual teachers who want to stay where they are. Decisions are expected by tomorrow.

English said the union's main concern lies in how the transfers were handled. She said some of the teachers had been at their schools for more than 10 years.

"It wasn't made clear as to why they weren't asked to return," English said.

Edie House, a school system spokeswoman who sat in on the meeting with the union, called it productive and said system administrators will work toward better communication with the union.

"I think they made headway," House said. "They came out with better understanding."

Towson officials said a leadership team made up of principals and other administrators decided which teachers would be kept at Morrell Park. Principals made the decisions at the other schools, said Jeffrey N. Grotsky, a senior researcher at Towson's College of Education.

Grotsky said the schools will find new teachers, in part, through two job fairs.

"It wasn't an evaluation on their ability to teach," Grotsky said. "It was a determination as to whether or not folks really bought into the approach we're going to use. As we build this culture of `Failure is no option for kids,' it was whether or not we felt people were willing to make that commitment. It wasn't that they were unsatisfactory or poor teachers. And no one has lost their job."

Grotsky, a former chief of staff in the city schools, and Linda Chinnia, the city schools' chief academic officer, will lead the new governing board for the schools. The governing board will have to run major changes by interim Chief Executive Officer Charlene Cooper Boston, who helped present the proposal before the state board yesterday.

State school board members, meanwhile, backed the plan, with four publicly voicing support. Board member David F. Tufaro admonished the union for its opposition to the transfers.

"It's sad that the greatest resistance to change, the greatest support for the status quo in our most important issue in Baltimore city, that the resistance is coming from the BTU," Tufaro said. "The unions in other jurisdictions are not that resistant to the fundamental changes that need to be made."

Towson officials said yesterday that they expect to present specific plans for overhauling the schools to the state board by the end of next month. An advisory board will design, set and implement polices for the schools in budget, staffing, curriculum/assessment and professional development.

Some of the other partners include:

The Center for Summer Learning at the Johns Hopkins University, which will run a new summer program.

Baltimore's Safe and Sound Campaign, which would start new programs after school.

New Leaders for new Schools, which would train principals to lead as positions opened.

"I think this is refreshing," said school board member Dunbar Brooks. "We have to take risks because the risk is worth it."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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