City College principal steps down

Dawson calls move a 'collaborative decision' with school system CEO

August 13, 2010|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

A day after meeting with city schools CEO Andrés Alonso, Tim Dawson, principal of Baltimore's prestigious City College for the past five years, told staff members Friday that he will no longer lead the school.

Despite recent questions about declining student achievement at the magnet high school, Dawson said his departure is "a collaborative decision."

He said he told Alonso, "If I were CEO, I'd probably be making the same decision you are."

With the move, just two weeks before the start of classes, City College becomes the third Baltimore magnet school to undergo a leadership change this summer. Barney Wilson, principal of Polytechnic Institute, was reassigned Tuesday to Reginald F. Lewis High School. Eleanor Matthews, the principal of Western High School, retired at the end of the school year.

City College, the third-oldest public high school in the nation, has long been considered one of the strongest high schools in Baltimore and has produced numerous local and state leaders. It was ranked 547th out of about 1,600 schools this year in Newsweek's annual America's Best High Schools list.

But at a briefing for alumni this week, school officials described declines in average SAT scores and student participation in International Baccalaureate classes. The average SAT score fell 57 points over the past three years, and the number of students graduating with an International Baccalaureate diploma fell from 12 in 2009 to five this school year.

Neil Bernstein, an emeritus board member of the school's alumni association, said he was "dancing" at the news of Dawson's departure. Bernstein said Dawson had a poor grip on college preparatory curriculum and had done nothing to arrest declines at City College.

Dawson's departure closely followed the revelation of sexual abuse charges against a City College staff member. Ryan Marcus Coleman, 34, was arrested last month and charged with abusing a 17-year-old student. School officials say the former hall monitor and dean of discipline left the school in May.

Dawson said the charges against Coleman had nothing to do with him leaving. "That's a separate matter," he said.

Dawson said he approached Alonso's chief of staff about pursuing other job opportunities in April. He said he is close to completing a doctoral degree and has not decided whether he will accept a reassignment within the system or seek a job elsewhere.

"Three to five years is a long time in one job," he said. "I was eagerly seeking a change."

Jimmy Gittings, president of the administrators union, sat in on Thursday's meeting between Alonso and Dawson and described the change as "an amenable agreement."

Asked whether Dawson was treated fairly, Gittings said, "I can't comment further, out of respect for Dr. Alonso and Tim, because future arrangements are pending."

City schools spokeswoman Edie House said Friday afternoon that she could not comment on Dawson's departure or plans to replace him.

Dawson said of his Thursday meeting with Alonso, "There was not a conversation about dissatisfaction. It was a conversation about moving forward."

Asked how the school can progress, Dawson said, "I'm going to defer to the new principal. A fresh set of eyes might be able to recognize some things that we need to do differently."

Bernstein said the change in leadership could improve City College's prospects.

"My guess is that his departure and the arrival of a suitable principal will mean a reinvigorated curriculum for all students," Bernstein said.

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