Phasing out Homeland Security Academy
Homeland Security Academy is on the way out. Underclassmen at the troubled school are getting the option -- strongly encouraged -- to transfer for the second semester to one of 21 other high schools. And Dr. Alonso is recommending that the board of education close the school this summer.
More to come in tomorrow's paper. In the meantime, see below for the press release just issued by the school system. And here's more on my recent visit to the school.
Baltimore City Public School System press release on Homeland Security Academy:
For Immediate Release: Thursday, Jan. 22, 2009
City Schools to Recommend Closure of High School,
Offer Midyear Transfer Options for Students
(Baltimore) — In a step marking its firm commitment to providing all students with an opportunity for a great education, Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) intends to seek the approval of the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners to close Homeland Security High School.
Citing the history of low student achievement and unacceptable learning environment at the school, City Schools CEO Andrés A. Alonso will recommend to the Board that the school be permanently closed at the end of the current school year. In accordance with required policies and procedures, this recommendation will formally start a school-closing decision process for Homeland Security, one of two schools located on the former Walbrook High School campus in Northwest Baltimore.
As part of this process, City Schools officials are offering all Homeland Security students in grades 9, 10 and 11 the option to transfer immediately, so that they will have better opportunities at other schools available to them as soon as possible.
While it makes sense for Homeland Security’s approximately 125 seniors to stay on at the school through graduation this spring, City Schools will offer the approximately 450 9th-, 10th- and 11th-grade students who will likely need to transfer next year anyway the option to move to schools where they have a better chance at success sooner rather than later.
“To recommend the closure of a school due to poor performance, and to encourage the immediate transfer of hundreds of students midyear—these are bold actions. But this is a case where nothing short of bold action is needed,” Dr. Alonso said. “Every single one of our kids should have the chance to attend a school that works for him or her. Right now, Homeland Security is not working for too many students, and it is time to say enough is enough and do right by our kids.”
Homeland Security opened in 2005-06 as part of the conversion of Walbrook High School into smaller high schools. Today, two schools remain at the former Walbrook campus: Homeland Security and the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship.
Instability and poor performance have been hallmarks of Homeland Security since its inception. There have been four changes in school leadership in four years, and the school’s original partners have left, leaving its thematic program nonexistent. Against this backdrop, student achievement at the school has consistently lagged, with state assessment scores significantly below the City Schools average. The climate at the school has created an unsafe environment for students and staff, making the ability of students to learn and grow impossible. And given its unwieldy physical structure, the school currently is extremely difficult to secure, making it impossible to transform Homeland Security’s climate.
“We don’t have time to waste. If we are able to give Homeland Security students other, better options now, in the middle of the school year, it is our responsibility as adults and educational leaders to do so,” Board Chair Brian Morris said. “In the meantime, the Board will carefully weigh Dr. Alonso’s recommendation to permanently close the school at year’s end.”
The school-closing process for City Schools and the Board includes the following:
Upon completing the initial school-closing study/report, the CEO provides a copy to the Board. This report is made available to the public.
A steering committee composed of school personnel, school parents and guardians, and central office leadership is formed.
A formal public hearing must precede any final decision.
The CEO’s final recommendation(s) and the Board’s ultimate decision must consider several factors, including: student enrollment trends, age/condition of school buildings, transportation, educational programs, student relocation and the impact on the school community.
The final decision by the Board must be made at a public session and be supported by a written decision.
By necessity, this process is lengthy and involved. In the meantime, all Homeland Security seniors will be encouraged to stay on through graduation this spring—within their community and with all the necessary supports to ensure a fulfilling senior experience—and those students who are not seniors will be offered the option to transfer. City Schools is committed to doing everything possible to support and ensure a smooth transition for all Homeland Security students and their families.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21, City Schools officials began meeting with Homeland Security students and their families, as well as with school staff and principals at schools likely to receive Homeland Security’s transferring students. In the days ahead, it will hold a meeting for senior students and their parents and at least two placement fairs for transferring students. Guidance and student support staff have identified sufficient slots for all Homeland Security 9th-11th graders at other high schools, and at the placement fairs, students will be given options based on their individual interests and needs.
A number of Baltimore public high schools were funded under Fair Student Funding this year for student slots that are not currently filled; this affords City Schools an immediate opportunity to transfer Homeland Security students without overburdening or stretching the resources of receiving schools. City Schools officials expect the majority of Homeland Security students to take advantage of the voluntary transfer option, and anticipate that approximately 10 to 20 students will transfer to each of some two dozen receiving schools on Feb. 2.
The Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship, Homeland Security’s neighboring school, is unaffected by the recommendation to close Homeland Security in June, though it may receive some of Homeland Security’s transferring students in the days ahead.