7 City Schools To Shut, 3 Grow

Alonso Reorganization Plan Includes Closings For Chronic Low Performance

3 Schools Relocating

July 28, 2009|By Sarah Fisher | Sarah Fisher,sarah.fisher@baltsun.com

Ten Baltimore schools are going through major changes this summer as the city school system begins efforts to close seven underperforming schools and expand three that are thriving.

Some changes have been upsetting. At Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School, staff members have raised concerns about absorbing the National Academy Foundation into their building this summer. The two schools will share the Dunbar site for the coming school year before Dunbar, which has struggled to maintain enrollment in recent years, closes next summer. National Academy will expand to include grades 6 through 12.

NAF has shared a building with Digital Harbor High School in South Baltimore since 2005 and uses "living classrooms," where students can "apply what they're learning to an actual situation," according to Karen Webber-Ndour, NAF principal. The Digital Harbor site, for example, had a kitchen in which students could learn to cook.

As they moved into the Dunbar building this month, NAF representatives expressed concerns about the school's facilities and whether they could accommodate NAF's needs.

City schools chief Andr?s Alonso said he fully anticipated such difficulties when he unveiled the reorganization plan in March. "Any meaningful change will bring about criticism," he wrote in an e-mail, "because it will impact many in new ways."

In the past, school closings occurred to reduce building use in the district, Alonso said. Last year, for example, four middle schools were phased out to condense space.

This year, however, some city schools are being closed as a result of low performance. The moves are in line with the philosophy of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who said in his address to a congressional committee in January that, as Chicago schools chief, he had "held accountable chronically low-performing schools - making the tough decision to close them down."

Six Baltimore schools are closing this summer: George G. Kelson Elementary/Middle, Harriet Tubman Elementary, William H. Lemmel Middle, Dr. Samuel L. Banks High, Thurgood Marshall High and Homeland Security High.

Other schools are moving to new locations: William Pinderhughes Elementary to the George G. Kelson building where it will expand to serve grades K-8, and the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship High School to William H. Lemmel Middle.

Like other schools involved in the reorganization, students and staff at NAF and Dunbar Middle will be making adjustments this summer.

NAF has estimated that the building requires $5.6 million in renovations to meet its needs.

There was also some confusion about when the transition would take place. Some at Dunbar thought their program would be unaffected in the next school year and that National Academy Foundation would not be moving in until 2010.

Despite the initial confusion, Dunbar Principal Mark Bongiovanni said that once people understood the situation, most realized the benefits of merging with NAF, which accepts students only if they meet certain academic criteria. Dunbar students will have the entrance requirements waived and will automatically be accepted to NAF.

"The opportunity for them is a huge plus," Bongiovanni said. "These are students that don't have the grades to go to a school like NAF. ... It's really going to benefit the kids."

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