Bitter goodbye

At least 45 of Annapolis High's 111 teachers are leaving, disappointed by staff overhaul at school

June 17, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

It would be understandable - even expected - if Sue Hersman got emotional about leaving Annapolis High School.

After all, she has spent nearly her entire career, 20 years, teaching at the school. She watched her two children graduate as Annapolis Panthers. An English teacher, she counseled hundreds of students on the staffs of the yearbook and the award-winning newspaper, and wrote and choreographed the halftime shows for sports tournaments.

But don't look for tears here.

She packed up her books and dismantled her bulletin board. She has found a job in another school. And she said she is happy and relieved to go.

"We had hoped for the best," she said. "The best hasn't come."

Hersman is among at least 45 of the school's 111 classroom teachers who are moving on, disillusioned by Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell's staff overhaul undertaken to thwart a state takeover and reverse three years of lagging student performance.

Nearly 74,000 county students ended their school year Friday, but Annapolis High's staff will work through the summer on a strategy to sharply raise test scores and boost attendance and graduation rates, especially among black male students, half of whom don't graduate in four years.

It must do all of that without nearly half of its longest-serving employees, who resigned rather than reapply for their jobs, as Maxwell required of all the school's staff to do in January.

According to the teachers union, 10 of the 17 teachers in the International Baccalaureate program, a key part of the district's effort to raise standards in the struggling school, are not returning. Neither are any of the five full-time guidance counselors, whom parents had hoped would write their children's college recommendation letters. More than half of the teachers in the math and English departments will be new.

The district's director of high schools, George P. Arlotto, said the changes will pose a challenge but that a fresh start that will help the school "become what it should have always been, the premier high school right here in the state capital."

"There's a range of reactions to this, from `I stayed and tried to make it work. I couldn't do it. Why do these new people think they can?' to a more cynical `Yeah, go ahead and try,'" said teachers union president Tim Mennuti.

"There's a sense among people who are staying that the teachers were left holding the bag for what is essentially a failure of policy on all levels," he said, "an unending chain of program after program aimed at these students that have not produced the successes that we should have seen."

Principal Don Lilley said he is working to end the hodgepodge of reform efforts that have had spotty success.

"My leadership team and I are trying to put everything on the table, new programs, old programs, and really critique them," said Lilley, who is wrapping up his second year at the school. "We don't want a little bit of everything. We want to keep what works and really focus on building stronger relationships with the students, with the community."

On July 1, Annapolis High will begin a year-round schedule, staffed by new teachers attracted by cash incentives: $2,500 signing bonuses, an extra $3,000 for each of the three years they work at the school and up to $6,000 over three years for each year the school meets federal No Child Left Behind targets.

A new "summer bridge program" will give 200 at-risk freshmen from Annapolis Middle a three-week head start and primer in English, algebra and reading.

The students, who were identified because they were struggling in one or more subjects and had poor attendance records, will also be linked with tutors and mentors for their freshman year. The students will account for about half of the incoming freshman class.

Lilley said he hopes the work to provide extra support for the students will pay off with high scores on yearly state high school assessments in algebra and English, and, in the long run, in SAT scores, graduation rates and the number of students bound for college.

Lilley said he recently created a committee of about 40 students who will be his "eyes and ears" in classrooms so that he can learn what students need to succeed. He plans to meet with the students regularly.

He is also working to build connections with community groups such as the Boys & Girls Club and businesses that can sponsor field trips and college visits.

He said he is also developing plans to build a "signature" program that focuses on international business at the school. He spent the last several weeks interviewing candidates who will teach economics with a global focus and be willing "to go to businesses to set up internships, talk to various groups in Washington and really build the program from the ground up."

Hersman has heard of such plans before. She said teachers at the school "had a closeness with the students" that the administration didn't recognize and that the staff overhaul will harm progress.

"It isn't the same school it was four years ago," Hersman said. "I will miss the way it used to be. We all worked very hard, very closely with the students."

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

DEPARTURES

Although the Anne Arundel County school district reports 66 of the 111 Annapolis High School classroom teaching positions have been filled by returning staffers, the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County puts that figure at 64. According to the union, the following academic departments are losing large numbers of teachers:

Foreign language: 6 of 6.5

Science: 6 of 13

Social studies: 6 of 13

Special education: 5 of 14

Math: 10 of 18

English: 14 of 20

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