Troubled Woodlawn High plans academic overhaul

November 26, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun reporter

Administrators at Woodlawn High School, the only Baltimore County high school to have reached "restructuring status" after years of failing to meet state benchmarks in reading and math, have begun the wrenching process of planning an overhaul of the school's academic program.

In recent meetings with teachers, staff and parents, Principal Edward D. Weglein explained the four options being considered but stressed that no decisions have been made.

"Within any of them, there's no real perfect answer," Weglein said in an interview. "But we'll work toward picking the best option."

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools that fail to reach federal standards after five consecutive years enter the restructuring planning stage. Failing schools must develop a plan to replace most or all of the staff, reopen as a charter school, contract with a private entity or bring in a "distinguished principal" from another district.

In Maryland, 40 schools are in restructuring planning. Three of those schools are in Baltimore County - Woodlawn High and Southwest Academy and Lansdowne middle schools.

Woodlawn Middle implemented its restructuring plan last year, though it wasn't required to do so because it made required gains during the 2005-2006 school year.

Nearly 70 schools statewide have launched restructuring plans. Woodlawn High - whose plan is due by April to state education officials - would have to restructure next school year only if it fails to meet reading and math benchmarks this school year.

With nearly 2,000 students, Woodlawn is one of the county's largest high schools. In recent results, the school, which 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.

Weglein said he met with teachers and parents to tell them that the restructuring planning process is under way. Informing the public is one of the first steps required by state education rules.

He said the meetings were not scheduled to quell rumors of a state takeover that had been circulating among teachers and parents.

State education officials confirmed that they have no plans to take over the school. Ann E. Chafin, assistant state superintendent, said Maryland law doesn't prescribe a state takeover as a restructuring option. It is, however, an option that federal law allows.

Chafin said the state's role is to ensure that the school's planning is progressing. She said Woodlawn's leaders will need to address such questions as: How well do the teachers know the curriculum? Do the school's teachers have the capacity to move forward with changes? What does the school need, in terms of resources and money?

Weglein said the meetings were held to provide information, which he acknowledged is limited at this early stage in the process.

"I would love to say to somebody, `Here is what you can expect,' but I can't," he said. "This is something of a major magnitude to the community, I can't play down that point. ... But we can't give details because we don't have details yet."

He said he and his staff noted questions raised during the meetings, and his goal is to gather more information and meet again before the winter break.

Parent Miko Baldwin said changes are necessary but that she worries about losing teachers and maintaining popular programs such as the robotics club and Advancement Via Individual Determination, a national college preparatory program. She said she hopes Weglein, the school's fifth principal in about a decade, will stay.

"If they go with a charter or a private entity, are they going to be able to maintain the same programs?" she asked.

The options have key differences. For instance, reopening as a charter school protects union contract provisions, while all terms are negotiable under a contract with a private entity. Schools that choose to force all or most of the staff to reapply - such as Annapolis High, where about half of its 111 teachers chose to leave this year - experience the turmoil of losing longtime educators.

Manuel Rodriguez, the system's southwest area assistant superintendent, said officials are researching the options. He said the involvement of parents, teachers, students and the community is vital to the process.

"It's natural for them to feel uncertainty because at this point we're all uncertain," Rodriguez said. "I can assure you that the intent is to keep everybody informed along the way."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

Timeline

November:

School administrators held meetings with teachers, parents and staff.

November through January:

School administrators to gather information on four options and compare with other school systems' choices; collect student and school data; assess teacher and student needs; hold more meetings with teachers, parents and community; and present findings to the area assistant superintendent.

February through April:

Area assistant superintendent presents information to the schools superintendent, who selects an option and seeks school board approval; the board-approved plan is due to state education officials by April.

August:

School begins operating under chosen restructure option if it fails to meet state benchmarks for 2007-2008 school year.[Source: Baltimore County schools officials]

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