Don't worry, Western
The alumnae of Western High School are at it again. A few years ago, graduates of the nation's oldest public girls school mobilized en masse amid rumors that their alma mater might be closed or merged with neighboring Poly. This time, the outcry is over plans -- still subject to school board approval -- to locate the sixth-grade of the a new all-girls middle/high school in its hallowed halls.
Dr. Alonso says with its current enrollment, Western is below 60 percent of its state-rated capacity. That means the use of space is so inefficient that the school is ineligible for state construction and renovation money -- desperately needed to fix its boilers. At the same time, the new Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is looking for space to get started. The school will begin next year with classes of about 80 sixth-graders and 80 ninth-graders, expanding eventually to serve all grades from six to 12.
Western's alumnae fear the standards of a magnet school with admissions requirements will suffer if it's located alongside a non-selective school. Alonso says he wouldn't locate the high school portion of the new school next to Western, but what better place for middle school girls to set some high aspirations? The Baltimore Leadership School would need about four classrooms next year and eight the year after, when it adds a seventh grade. After that, Alonso says, the school will need to find a permanent location where it can house all grades under the same roof. Meanwhile, Western might be able to get some of the repairs it needs. "All I want to do is support Western," Alonso said at a news conference yesterday where he praised the school and the four others in the city that made the U.S. News & World Report list of the nation's best.
Some people aren't buying it. An excerpt from an e-mail being circulated among Western alums: "If we (Western) are forced to share our building with a new school, it is my/ our position that it will be to the detriment of our school/program that has a proven track record of excellence for nearly 165 years. No one would dare try to put a new school in the engineering wing of Poly or the ground floor of City claiming that they 'need the space'. Why, because their alumni would not stand for it."