Schools matched with turnaround operators

Sweeping changes in store for five failing schools

April 29, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

Five of the city's worst-performing schools have been matched with academic companies that will take over their operations next school year.

The school system announced Tuesday the assignments of the five partner organizations that will lead the long-failing schools and put in place everything from new curriculum to new staff.

In March, the city's school board approved the list of candidates who applied to partner with "turnaround schools," which the district hopes will be saved from closure under the new leadership. Since then, the operators have been pitching their plans to school communities.

"The community ended up recommending who we would have picked for the schools," said Laura Weeldreyer, city schools' deputy chief of staff. Schools' CEO Andres Alonso made the final matches and signed off on the partnerships this month.

School officials announced the following partnerships Tuesday: Calverton Elementary and Middle School will be operated by Friendship Schools, which will implement a science and technology curriculum; Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School will be operated by Living Classrooms; Chinquapin Middle School will be paired with Baltimore IT Academy; Garrison Middle School will partner with Global Partnership Schools; and William C. March Middle School will partner with the Johns Hopkins University Talent Development.

All of the operators are currently running schools in the city except Global Partnership, a group headed by two nationally known former urban school superintendents.

Rudy Crew, president of Global Partnership, said that he is looking forward to bringing the agency's philosophy of a global-centric education to Garrison Middle School, whose biggest challenge he said would be "just overcoming the inertia of people feeling that there is not much we can do."

"This is about getting kids ready for the global economy and the global world; this is really not about performing well on standardized tests," Crew said. "You have to draw a line from a child's life in Baltimore City to where they're going to be in the world."

The turnaround schools will also undergo sweeping internal reforms. Principals will have to reapply for their positions, and 50 percent of the schools' staff will be replaced. Under the plan, the schools also have the liberty to extend school days or add to the school year.

In addition to matching schools to outside operators, the plan will allow two schools to undergo internal restructuring, taking on academic and cultural themes.

Booker T. Washington Middle School will implement a performing arts-themed curriculum; Augusta Fells Savage will take on a visual arts theme. Weeldreyer said that the schools were chosen to undergo internal changes because their programs didn't require an overhaul.

Frederick Douglass High School was also set to be paired with an outside operator, but the process of finding a good match has been unsuccessful. Weeldreyer said that there was not a wide range of applicants comfortable working with high schools. The school system is still considering options.

The district's attempt comes at a time when national education leaders have set as a priority the turnaround of the bottom 5 percent of low-performing schools and are offering about $47 million to districts that have plans for improvement. Baltimore hopes to get at least $500,000 for each of the five schools.

Weeldreyer said school officials hope that students aren't the only ones who learn through the new partnerships.

"Hopefully, we're going to learn something about what it takes to really turn a school around when they have been underperforming for such a long time," she said.

egreen@baltsun.com

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