Parent decries school neglect

Woodlawn likened to `detention center'

October 22, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun reporter

When Miko Baldwin took a recent day off from work to help out in the office at Woodlawn High School, she discovered something that stunned her: the locker rooms had no hot water.

And it turns out they hadn't had any for at least two years.

Baldwin complained, and within weeks the hot water was restored. But she still worries that the lengthy interruption of such a basic need is, at best, a sign of neglect, and at worst, evidence that a community and a school system might be writing off a struggling school.

The mother of three teens - one a junior at Woodlawn, another a 2005 graduate of the school - Baldwin said she believes parents must take a stand to see that their children are given a better learning environment and the tools to thrive.

"We need to get kids what they need. We need things done and we need them done now," she said. "We need to make it look like a campus instead of a juvenile detention center."

The school's principal, Edward D. Weglein, said he was unaware of the water problem until after Baldwin called the system's facilities department.

"Once I heard about it, I said, `Let's get it done,'" he said Friday. "It's impossible to know something if no one tells you."

School officials acknowledge that work needs to be done at Woodlawn, which is on a state watch list for struggling schools and has experienced frequent turnover in principals.

Kara Calder, the school system's spokeswoman, pointed to examples of work under way or recently completed: the repair of a sidewalk that was torn apart last year; upgrades to a security system; and the installation of a lift for wheelchairs near the gym to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Baldwin says more work is needed. She says the sprawling building's aging windows demand attention because some don't open, some are broken, and others are foggy with years of weathering. A broken roll-up gate has meant the school store can't open. Insufficient outdoor lighting makes the school grounds unsafe after dusk, Baldwin says.

Weglein said a part for the gate has been ordered. He added that windows are sometimes broken during weekends, but are quickly repaired. He said he doesn't think the lighting was inadequate, but he is willing to have someone from facilities evaluate it.

For Baldwin, however, the lack of hot water for showers stands out as the starkest symbol of what's ailing Woodlawn.

"Enough is enough. I'm tired of excuses," she said on a recent evening outside the building's main entrance. "I want the same things every other school has. You wouldn't have this if it was Dulaney or Towson High."

A few weeks ago, Baldwin - who was off from work at Verizon, where she consults with schools nationwide on telecommunications equipment - was helping office staff with paperwork when she decided to look at the gym's new flooring. That's when she discovered that area of the school had no hot water.

Baldwin said she called the school system's facilities office and was told that a hot water heater was purchased last year but wasn't hooked up.

School officials later explained that the gas hot water heater wasn't installed because it was too big for the space and lacked sufficient room to properly ventilate. Since Baldwin's complaint, two 80-gallon electric hot water heaters have been installed.

She said she realizes most teens no longer shower at school, but she regards hot water as a basic provision for health and hygiene.

She said the recent news coverage of outbreaks of staph infections underscored her alarm.

Woodlawn High, one of the county's largest high schools with about 2,000 students, has struggled to meet statewide assessment standards. In recent results, the school, where the student population is 90 percent black, had only 32.3 percent of the Class of 2009 passing the state's high school assessment for algebra - one of four exams required for graduation.

Baldwin, 39, is a 1986 graduate of Milford Mill High School, now Milford Mill Academy. She grew up in the Woodlawn area, and has had a child at Woodlawn High since the 2000-2001 school year.

A member of the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Association since 2001, this year she decided to focus on increasing parent and community involvement.

Baldwin said she may be making some people uncomfortable, but that hasn't softened her resolve.

"If the adults act like they don't care, that makes the students not care," she said. "We have to show them we do care and give everyone a reason to do their best."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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