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May 30, 2009

NEA to spotlight Kenwood High School's character education program

I got an email from Kenwood High School's Nancy Hanlin, one of two teachers who have introduced the school to the Virtues Project, a new character education initiative that I wrote about a few months ago.  Apparently the National Education Association recently interviewed some of the students and staff involved in Kenwood's Virtues group, discussing the concept and its impact on Kenwood - and on them.

While the video won't be out until this fall, you can catch a preview of what they have to say.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 29, 2009

City schools lose human resources officer

At Tuesday night's city school board meeting, Andres Alonso announced that JoAnne Koehler, the human resources officer for the school system, will be retiring. Alonso said he asked Koehler to think about it for a week while she was on vacation because he hoped she would stay. But she came back a week later and said, sorry, I am gone. "JoAnne Koehler did an amazing job," he said.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 28, 2009

Meetup redux

Thanks to everyone who came out for last night's meetup.  There were many familiar faces from our last get-together, as well as some new folks in the mix, which made for very interesting conversation.

About a dozen or so people came during the evening, in addition to me, Sara and our former editor, Patricia, showing her continued support for InsideEd.  We had among us a special education teacher who is working on his PhD, a first-year teacher and an administrator doing his best to woo said teacher to his staff - as well as Bill and his fiancee, Lea Smith, and The Smallest Twine.

We had fun revisiting the ongoing Teach for America debate, talking about high school journalism classes, sharing summer plans and discussing whether school employees did, in fact, take the TELL survey...among a number of other things. 

I really enjoyed seeing you again - and meeting some of you for the first time. 

Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:12 PM | | Comments (3)

Less than 2.3 percent of seniors won't graduate

The state released its almost final numbers yesterday on the number of students who won't meet the high school assessment requirement and will fail to graduate. I have a story in today's paper. There are lots more kids who have been lost along the way during the process of moving from ninth to 12th grade, but these are the students held back by just the HSAs.

The news was remarkably good in the eyes of Nancy Grasmick and the state board members, some of whom breathed a sigh of relief. Mary Kay Finan, a board member, said, "The impact of the HSAs was not as detrimental as we thought it would be." Back in the fall, she said, it looked as though there were going to be 9,000 to 10,000 who weren't going to graduate.

What still hasn't been revealed is the number of students who may have been overwhelmed by the process of passing the tests or doing the projects. Caught in a school that wasn't giving them encouragement or support, they may simply have decided not to come back over last summer.

Or maybe they just dropped out during this school year. And we also don't know whether the dropout rate will rise.

I wonder if any of our regular readers know of students who haven't made it? How do they feel?

On the other hand, I would like to hear from teachers and principals about what they see as the next step in the process of making high school better for students.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:10 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

May 27, 2009

Preparing for the SAT may not pay big returns

Ever wonder whether all those expensive test prep courses actually work as well as the companies claim? Some guarantee they will raise your SAT or ACT scores significantly.

Well, the National Association for College Admission Counseling commissioned a report that found that the average gain for students who have taken professional test prep is only 30 points for the SAT and only one point on the ACT. That, the report says, is significantly less than gains that are claimed by test prep companies. But here's the rub. NACAC also says that college admissions officers sometimes report that even small increases in test scores can have an impact on whether a student is admitted or not. For instance, some colleges have cut off test scores and others say even slightly higher test scores can influence whether a student gets into a college.

The full paper is available online.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:20 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

May 26, 2009

Teach for America growing in Baltimore

In Monday's paper, I wrote about Teach for America's plans to expand in Baltimore next school year.  What is interesting to me, but didn't make it into the story, is the fact that Maryland has been unable to choose some very highly qualified candidates from top schools in the nation because of its certification requirements. To be certified you have to have six college credits in a range of subjects. So you may have graduated in the top of your class at Harvard, but you won't be able to teach in Baltimore because you didn't take enough math classes.

The state and Teach for America are trying to negotiate a solution to this problem. They may agree to drop the distribution requirements in lieu of a high GPA. We will see.

In the meantime, plenty of applicants have stepped forward to find places in the city schools.

Andres Alonso likes TFA because it provides a lot of bang for the buck. He sees many future leaders in the system coming out of TFA.

What do you all think about the Teach for America expansion?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:38 AM | | Comments (58)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City

InsideEd on

As Sara mentioned before she departed, she did an interview about this blog with, which focuses on how journalists can use blogging and social networks in their reporting.

Check out the blog post on her interview, as well as the podcast.

Thanks to a parent, who beat me to the punch.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 25, 2009

InsideEd meetup this Wednesday

Don't forget about our InsideEd meetup this week, Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Teavolve.

Come on out to bid Sara Neufeld farewell in person - and for another chance to talk schools.

If you plan on coming, please let us know so we can give Teavolve a sense of what to expect.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:47 PM | | Comments (8)

May 22, 2009

A night of fashion at Windsor Mill Middle School

The cafeteria at Baltimore County's Windsor Mill Middle School was transformed into a miniature Bryant Park last night - complete with runway - for a student fashion show I attended there.

The Beautiful Divine Ladies, girls from all three grade levels who are members of a leadership program, were showing off their fashion-diva side last night, but a couple videos presented in between scenes also showed off what they had done during the school year.  The girls read Hill Harper's Letters to a Young Sister, and then wrote their own letters of advice to their little sisters (a crowd favorite: "Boys are not everything.  Focus on school. Not on them.").  They also had a segment of poetry, describing who they are - and want to be.

There's an extended Web version of the story in today's paper...I only wish I could better capture the audience's enthusiasm for these young ladies.  The cheers and shouts were constant.  McKey Sullivan, the previous winner of America's Next Top Model, was the mistress of ceremonies.  But the girls were most definitely the stars.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 7:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 21, 2009

And on it goes: decision delayed in the West Towson Elementary case

The Baltimore County Circuit Court judge presiding over this morning's hearing to stop the construction of West Towson Elementary decided to issue a written ruling on the matter.  It's unclear when that will come out.

But I wanted to at least supply you with some of the arguments made in court.  The courtroom was pretty full on both sides today - and some kids were even in attendance.  The Board of Education's attorneys tried to get the preliminary injunction request thrown out right off the bat, but Judge Michael Finifter also reserved judgment on that score.

As soon as I hear more specifics about when Finifter might release his ruling, I'll let you know.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:31 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

Baltimore Teachers Union says teachers being let go

The Baltimore Teachers Union complained yesterday that some principals are now telling a small group of highly qualified teachers they won't have jobs for them in the fall.

The union says they believe between 25 and 100 teachers are in the midst of having to find new positions inside the system or in their schools because their current jobs will no longer exist next school year.

Some of the problem apparently comes from the fact that principals now control their own budgets and are cutting positions to balance their budgets.

Andres Alonso said yesterday that he doesn't know why this would be happening because school budgets have not yet been finally approved. A job fair will be held this weekend for teachers who are looking for new jobs.

Apparently, the teachers are not going to find themselves without a job, but they may have to take a position they consider less than ideal.



Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:14 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Baltimore City

More joining the ranks for cool air in Baltimore County schools

The quest for air conditioning continued during last night's public hearing on Baltimore County's capital budget for the 2011 fiscal year, with about a dozen people - including one shy but brave student - from Westowne Elementary and Ridgely Middle schools chiming in.

Parent after parent stepped up to the microphone to describe children feeling faint in their classrooms, or dealing with nausea, headaches and flushed faces dripping with sweat.  Several referred to Westowne's music room - apparently a very small space - as "the sauna," while others described the difficulty of working and moving around the building with special education students in "sweltering" conditions.

Last night's theme followed a rather heated exchange about the situation at Ridgely Middle, where parents have long been asking the district to do something about the high temperatures they've recorded in classrooms on hot days.

The middle school parents, who have organized a group called Friends of Ridgely, were sporting tags at yesterday's hearing that read: "103 degrees is NOT a Learning Environment."

Laura Mullen, whose daughter attends Ridgely, warned school officials that they weren't going away. 

I'm told to expect a rally drawing attention to this issue in the weeks ahead.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Finance

May 20, 2009

West Towson hearing tomorrow

For those who are following the ongoing West Towson Elementary lawsuit - and I know you are out there - the hearing on a preliminary injunction to stop Baltimore County schools' construction plans is Thursday morning.

I received a letter this week from the president of the Ruxton Ridge Community Association - sent to various elected officials and the state superintendent - about the cancellation of a meeting that residents from that community were to have with the school board.  With their permission, I share it with you.

On behalf of the Ruxton Ridge Community Association, I am writing to inform you of the very disappointing treatment that our community has received from the Baltimore County Board of Education regarding the construction of the new West Towson Elementary School.  This project is taking place directly adjacent to our community, and we have multiple concerns regarding the impact this will have on our community.

We have made several requests to the school board for a meeting with our community. Dr Joe Hairston agreed to meet with the community on May 28, 2009.  And although this meeting was going to take place after the construction had begun, we were pleased that we would finally be able to have a discussion. This meeting, however, has been cancelled.

Several families, located adjacent to the school site, (not in the Ruxton Ridge Community) have filed litigation against the School Board.  It was shortly after this litigation was filed, that the meeting with our community was cancelled.  No one from Ruxton Ridge Community is involved in the litigation nor would anyone from those who are involved, be at the meeting.

I am told that no meeting would be held until litigation was settled. This hardly seems fair. Ruxton Ridge Community has been completely shut out and have not had an opportunity to express our concerns or to be informed regarding the construction of the new school.

We are asking you, our elected officials, to urge the School Board to reconsider the cancellation of this important meeting.  Ruxton Ridge Community is not requesting a meeting to discuss the merits of the construction, but merely the impact this project will have on our neighborhood.

Very Truly Yours,

Kent Reichert, President

Ruxton Ridge Community Association

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:42 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 18, 2009

Signing off...

Thanks for your wonderful comments and to all of you for reading and participating in InsideEd. Keep going. Stay in touch. And see you next week at Teavolve.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:48 PM | | Comments (15)

In Baltimore schools, a jump in permanent expulsions

My last Sun byline will be on a story about a drastic rise in permanent expulsions from Baltimore schools this year. I reported here back in October, following the explosions at Patterson High, that the system would start permanently expelling students found guilty of arson or detonating explosives. Consequently, 34 students -- including one in elementary school and 13 in middle school -- have been permanently expelled this school year, up from four last year at this time and just one the year before that. Two parents have secured legal representation from the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, which is considering a lawsuit.

We've talked a lot on this blog about Dr. Alonso's recommendation that students not be suspended for non-violent offenses. Indeed, the number of suspensions so far this school year is down by 3,500, from 13,289 incidents to 9,722. But on the flip side, Alonso wants zero tolerance for violence, and he makes a strong statement with his direction on permanent expulsions. 

Should a kid who sets a trash can fire be prohibited from ever returning to a Baltimore public school?

I can see both sides. On one hand, setting a fire, even a little one, puts hundreds of lives in danger, and such behavior cannot be tolerated in public schools. The permanent expulsion regulation seems to be having a positive effect in terms of decreasing arsons, which are down from 80 last school year to 47 so far this year.

But a student who is permanently expelled basically has no choice but to go to a private school or to be home-schooled, since neighboring public school districts typically honor each others' expulsions. For low-income, working parents, neither of these options is really an option. And some of these kids are really young, 12 and 13 in the case of the Legal Aid clients. Even kids in prison get an education there.

The school system makes the point that not many of the cases have been appealed. But when I saw one family's correspondence from the school system, I could understand why. I know the system needs to protect itself legally, but the letters were written in such jargon that it was hard to understand what was happening. There's also a very limited time window for an appeal: 10 days after the initial suspension, five days after a hearing officer rules on a permanent expulsion. The stepfather of the boy I met with said he didn't see the letter until it was too late, which seems to be a plausible explanation in a house with four kids where his wife is running a daycare center.

I think of how hard the school system tried to get dropouts back into school, with phone calls and door knocking, and wonder why the same can't be done to help families figure out something -- anything -- to prevent these troubled children from ending up on the streets.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 3:56 PM | | Comments (37)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

Bullying policies in Baltimore County and elsewhere

My story today takes a look at a bullying policy coming before the Baltimore County school board Tuesday.

But really, this could have been about any school board in Maryland, considering the state law that requires every district to develop and adopt such a policy.  School officials in the city, Howard, Harford, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties are in the midst of this process, which must be completed by July 1 (and submitted to the state superintendent).

In talking to some of my sources, I was struck by the fact that most everyone already has a policy like this - even if it's not in the exact words or format recommended by the state.  In fact, the state Department of Education worked with local districts in creating its model policy. 

A uniform stance on an issue can certainly be a good thing - particularly when it comes to the persistent, even timeless, problem of bullying.  But I did wonder what people on the ground think about this.  Will it make a difference in how educators handle harassment or intimidation among their students?

InsideEd profiled by

I was interviewed Friday by Patrick Thornton, who runs a Web site called that's aimed at helping journalists like me who write blogs about our beats. I'm not sure when his post on our interview will go up, but it should be in the next few days. Check back on the site to see (or hear... I think there will be a podcast of our conversation) my thoughts on how InsideEd made me a better reporter. Patrick's 140-character takeaway from our conversation was this, as posted to his Twitter account: "A blog will drastically expand your network of sources and allow you to get more info than ever before."

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:32 AM | | Comments (0)

Belatedly, recognizing Baltimore teachers

When it comes to recognizing teachers in Baltimore schools, better late than never. Following the news that the city's Teacher of the Year was selected from among only 13 nominees, Dr. Alonso sent a note to principals on May 12 asking each of them to select an outstanding teacher by May 19. He said the faculty should be part of the selection process. The winner at each school will get admission to a May 29 "bullpen party" sponsored by the city school system followed by the Orioles game, where Teacher of the Year Nicholas Greer will throw out the first pitch.

Next year, I think the goal will be to reverse the order, selecting an outstanding teacher from each school before selecting a citywide Teacher of the Year. But we take recognition when we can...

I'm pasting Alonso's letter to principals below.

May 12, 2009

Dear Principals:

This year we have made great strides in student achievement. To honor the hard work of
our teachers, I am asking each principal to work with his/her faculty to nominate and
select one outstanding teacher to attend a special celebration. Since this teacher will be
representing every teacher in your school, it is important that the faculty be involved in
the process.

In honor of the invaluable service that our teachers perform on behalf of our students and
their families, City Schools will host “Baltimore City Teacher Recognition Night” during
the Orioles game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday, May 29, 2009. Thanks to
the generosity of the Orioles, each outstanding teacher will receive one ticket to the
game. City Schools will host a Bullpen Party at 6:00 p.m., to be followed by the game
(starting time is 7:10 p.m.). Our teachers will be recognized during the game, and the first
pitch will be thrown out by Nicholas Greer, City Schools’ Teacher of the Year.

Please send the outstanding teacher’s name, home address, e-mail address and a one paragraph
teaching bio to Ms. Nancy Neilson at no later than May 19, 2009. Your teacher will receive a game ticket and a special name tag for admission to the Bullpen Party (by U.S. mail), as well as directions to the gate and any special instructions. Each teacher will also receive a certificate of appreciation. Submit your selection early, to ensure that your school is recognized during this special celebration of great kids, great schools and great teachers.

My thanks to each of you and to every one of our teachers for your hard work on behalf
of our kids this year.

Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:06 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 17, 2009

HSAs: How close to the finish line?

Liz had a heck of a time getting the state to release data last week on how many seniors still have not met the HSA requirements, with graduation just a few weeks away. As she reported Friday, the number who have not passed is shrinking every day as projects keep rolling in. Fewer than 1,150 students were coming up short in Baltimore City plus Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Harford and Montgomery counties combined, down from 2,040 in late March. Baltimore County and Prince George's County (which had more students at risk for not graduating than any other district) did not release updated figures. But Baltimore County officials said they expect the number who won't graduate to be less than 4 percent of the senior class, or about 300 students.

In the city, officials estimate that more than 90 percent of seniors will have met the HSA requirements by graduation. Diplomas would be denied to about 400 seniors.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 11:38 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Testing

May 16, 2009

Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Ed

I'm working my last night police shift at The Sun tonight. Despite having done shifts like this at various newspapers for more than a decade, my grandmother still asks every time if I'll be safe. Every time, I can assure her that I will be.

Why? On weekends late at night, we're only looking to report on major crimes, most notably murders. But as long as the killings happen in certain neighborhoods, fitting the city's typical pattern where a 20-something-year-old black male is shot in a high-drug area, we only give them a few sentences. I sit listening to the police scanner and call the public information officer on duty at the police department. Almost invariably, I never have to leave the office. (Now, if mayhem breaks out at the Preakness tonight, I'll have to eat my words, but I'm speaking generally about my experience over time, and the same is true across newspapers.) I feel guilty every time I do it, reduce someone's life to a paragraph or two. And yet, I don't see a way around it. Newsworthiness is determined in large part by rarity, and shootings happen in Baltimore's impoverished, majority-black neighborhoods all the time. Of the 234 homicides in the city last year, 214 of the victims were African-American. Eighty-three percent of them had a criminal record, and 70 percent of them had prior drug arrests.

Wait, isn't this an education blog? Well...

As many of you know, tomorrow is the 55th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Fifty-five years later, with some notable exceptions (City Neighbors Charter comes immediately to mind), many of our schools in Baltimore and urban centers around the nation are still separate and unequal. Jonathan Kozol used the word "apartheid" when he came to Baltimore not long ago. This is no longer because of legal segregation, but because of the housing choices that we make -- choices that evolved partly to avoid the Brown mandate. We the middle class are largely able to shield ourselves from "the other Baltimore" if we want to. We can be apathetic to the violence that plagues our cities and the plight of our schools.

What's impressed me most about Dr. Alonso in the nearly two years I've been following him is his complete rejection of this apathy, of any excuse that certain neighborhoods can't have great schools. But what would it take to spread that conviction throughout the system and throughout our society?

We know from organizations such as KIPP that successful segregated schools are possible with a ton of work, but that's far from an ideal solution. We also know that racially and economically integrated schools benefit everyone who attends them, yet we have an aversion to cross-neighborhood busing. I wonder where we'll be in another 55 years. Can charter schools and the school choice movement (or some other force) ever make integrated schools the reality on a large-scale basis?

May 13, 2009

With a heavy heart, volunteering to go

This is a hard post to write, but as a reporter (for the next five days, at least), I mustn't bury the lead: I volunteered today to be laid off by The Sun.

After the 61 layoffs in our newsroom two weeks ago, former reporters laid off from other job classifications (i.e., columnists, copy editors) have the option of going back into the reporting lineup. As a result of that "bumping," some of the reporters with low seniority are being laid off this week, including a friend with many more personal responsibilities than I have. That friend's situation inspired me to offer my job, but I think it will also be the right move for me personally, sorry as I am to leave the Baltimore schools beat that I've come to care so much about.

And this blog...

When I found out two years ago that The Sun would be starting an education blog, I complained that it would take up too much time. I was right that it is a huge time investment, but I had no idea how much fun or rewarding it would be. Suddenly, teachers and administrators who never would have let me quote them by name in the newspaper were speaking out about the challenges they face every day, sparking some of the most engaging and meaningful dialogue in which I've ever been a part. We've often talked about how the best professional development comes from teachers sharing ideas. Similarly, I believe that some of the best solutions to the problems facing our schools can come from thoughtful conversation among stakeholders like you.

To Bill, Wise Educator, A Parent, Corey, Interesting Observations, Simon, David Ortiz, Veteran Teacher, Brandon, Avalon, Alrighty Then..., Steph, Just An Observation, Over The Top, James from Hampden, Calamity, MATHS students, even Interested & Engaged BCPSS Parent with your hard-to-decipher comments, and the many others who keep this blog lively: Thank you. And please keep it up. Liz will be taking over for me, at least temporarily. As she adjusts to her expanded assignment, we've discussed the possibility of recruiting several of you to do guest posts on the issues that you think are important. E-mail her at if you're interested.

To More Humbly Did I Teach, Smallest Twine, Baltimore Diary, Surviving The System, Challenge To Care in Charm City bloggers, and the rest of you with your own Baltimore education blogs: Thank you, too, for helping me to keep up on the issues. I will continue to follow your stories.

I'm not sure what's in store for me next. I'm looking at opportunities both in Baltimore and in New York City, which would put me with my sister and a quick train ride from the rest of my family in Connecticut. It's strange to think that, for the first time in 16 years, I won't be a newspaper reporter anymore. But I'm lucky that along the way, I developed a second, even stronger passion for the subject I've been covering for nearly a decade now. And since public schools aren't going away anytime soon, I hope I can find something that enables me to help kids in a different role.

If you'd like to stay in touch, friend me on Facebook, direct message me on Twitter, or contact any of my colleagues here for my personal e-mail address.

About that meetup: I still plan to be at Teavolve at 6 p.m. on May 27. I hope to see many of you there.

I'll be here through Monday and will continue to post until then.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:07 PM | | Comments (48)

Gittings alleges improper spending

Jimmy Gittings, known for his colorful comments at school board meetings, was back at it last night as he called for an investigation into spending practices at North Avenue. No expense over $25,000 is supposed to go through without board approval. The PSASA president said he has a "strong feeling" -- but no proof -- that protocol is not being followed. He said that if he had gone against board procedure during the years he worked in the system's Title 1 office, "I'd have been taken out of here in handcuffs." Dr. Alonso said he's not sure what Gittings is referring to, but he's asked a staff member to look into the concern.

Gittings also alleges that the system does not have enough jobs in schools for all the central office administrators whose positions were eliminated this year, based on PSASA's calls to 138 of the system's principals. Alonso said there will be spots in schools for those with valid certification.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:45 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 12, 2009

McLaurin to oversee networks

The city school board tonight named Landa McLaurin director of the system's new school support networks. McLaurin has been a principal coach with New Leaders for New Schools for the past three years since leaving her post as principal of Western High.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:45 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore City

On the calendar...

If tonight's school board meeting isn't enough excitement for your week, here are some other noteworthy events:

Tomorrow at 7:30 p.m., the NAACP's Baltimore branch and Iota Phi Lambda Sorority will hold a meeting to protest the impending merger of Paquin with Baltimore Rising Star Academy. A press release says that "there’s been no better God sent servant than (Paquin) Director Dr. Rosetta Stith ... to address challenges that our girls are confronting." Meeting at the NAACP headquarters, 8 W. 26th St. This two weeks after Kweisi Mfume, former president of the national NAACP, testified against the merger before the school board.

Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., Dr. Alonso is holding a forum for teachers at Poly on collaborative planning. Then at 6, the City Council will have a hearing on the school system's operating budget.

And looking ahead to next week: Jay Matthews, the Washington Post reporter who wrote the book "Work Hard. Be Nice." about KIPP schools, will speak at a fundraiser for the organization from 6 to 8 p.m. May 21 at the Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Maritime Park and Museum. Tickets are (sorry) $75 each, but you do get a copy of the book included in the price.

UPDATE, 5/14: The teacher forum for today has been canceled due to a death in Dr. Alonso's family.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 5:10 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

Stephen Colbert encourages donations to teachers

Comedian Stephen Colbert is encouraging donations to DonorsChoose, the Web site that raises money to help teachers (including those in Baltimore, as you might recall from the mustache fundraiser) pay for classroom supplies. He's asking people to celebrate his 45th birthday by signing on to the site and giving to the teacher of their choice. So far 64 donors have given $3,733. Check it out here.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:04 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

A displaced BCPSS employee looks for work

An excellent blog entry by Baltimore Diary (even if he does say that InsideEd conversations lately have been "more chaff than wheat" -- ouch!) about his experience at the Baltimore school system job fair on Saturday.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:38 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Another step forward for special ed

A new state audit on "related services" in Baltimore schools reports significant improvement from last year, with noncompliance rates now in the single digits. That's a long way from the 90,000 hours of makeup services the system was ordered to provide back in 2005 when I started covering the city schools. And just last fall, the system acknowledged that it was not in compliance with the related services provision of the Vaughn G. consent decree. Now it's going to try to be freed from that provision.

So what happened? When I met with Dr. Alonso and Kim Lewis yesterday, Lewis mentioned careful monthly tracking of services. She also said the system shifted the financial burden to service providers when a student misses a service and needs a makeup. Before, a contractor could be paid twice for the same job, even though it wasn't performed the first time. There's efficiency for you.

MSDE has relieved the system of one corrective action plan, but six remain involving other areas of special ed. Another step forward. How many to go?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:05 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City, SpecialEd

May 11, 2009

Electrical problem, but no fire, at Sparrows Point High School

A kind reader alerted me to an incident at Sparrows Point High School today, and I wanted to provide some additional information, for those who might be wondering what happened out there.

The Baltimore County Fire Department tells me the school was evacuated this afternoon, as a precautionary measure, because of an electrical problem with an air-conditioning unit on the roof.  There was no actual fire. 

Activities were canceled for this evening, as BGE workers are there fixing their equipment.

A BGE spokeswoman said the workers should be finished by 5 p.m.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

Another InsideEd meetup

I'm proposing an end-of-school-year InsideEd meetup for Wednesday, May 27, 6 p.m., again at Teavolve. I've run the date and time past David Donaldson at MATHS; he's going to try to bring some of the students who have been commenting on the blog in the past few weeks.

How does that date and time work for you?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:35 PM | | Comments (2)

When should ex-cons be allowed around students?

Peter Hermann has this blog item about our coverage Saturday of Black Guerrilla Family lieutenant Rainbow Lee Williams doing gang de-escalation work at Harbor City and four educators endorsing the Black Book. Peter mentions a case he covered at Northern High School in the late 1990s where a former criminal was working as a school counselor, under the theory that because of his troubled past, kids would be able to relate to him. Then a new regime came in and got rid of the counselor, also because of his troubled past.

I do understand the theory that ex-cons can relate to a vulnerable population of kids, perhaps better than most anyone else. But how do you determine which ones are safe to be in our schools? Though Williams supposedly wasn't left alone with students, his case is troubling on two counts: 1) He just had gotten out of prison on a murder charge a few weeks before his work at Harbor City began -- so he hadn't had any time to prove he had turned himself around, which, as it turns out, he hadn't. 2) (Did I mention?) He'd just gotten out of prison on a murder charge. Shouldn't the standard be different for murder than lesser crimes? Why is it that sex offenders can never go back into schools, but there can be an exception after you've killed someone? (I'm not endorsing sex offenders in schools, either.)

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:19 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

May 9, 2009

Sara's busy Friday

I'm exhausted after writing four stories yesterday, one on the Stanford 10 scores, one on the Baltimore Teachers Union's Extreme Classroom/Library Makeover contest, and two with Justin Fenton on the Black Guerrilla Family.

The test scores, as you know, are up.

The classroom makeover is well intentioned but somewhat problematic. The teacher at Southside Academy is likely slated to move to a different (smaller) classroom next school year. And the BTU still needs to raise money and solicit volunteers to complete the renovations.

As for the Black Guerrilla Family: I learned a bit more about convicted murderer Rainbow Lee Williams' role de-escalating gang conflicts at Harbor City with Partners In Progress. And we got a copy of The Black Book, a self improvement guide written by the head of BGF. Andrey Bundley and Bridget Alston-Smith, head of PIP, are among those who endorsed the book on its back cover. Both say they were only speaking about the personal improvement efforts they witnessed personally while doing outreach in prisons.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 7:27 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 8, 2009

Comment(s) of the Week, Ventilation Edition

I can't decide between these two -- the first from Wise Educator and the second from Sara (not me!) -- on working at a school without air conditioning.

... How about teaching in a major US city, a first world country, where you can't drink the water, often have no heat, and often no air conditioning. Mold is everwhere. Rodents and roaches not uncommon, roofs leak, patched floor tiles rarely match, on and on! Somehow we think "our most precious resources" should live in this environment all day every day. This is their childhood!

Posted by: wise educator | May 6, 2009 6:45 PM

In response to another commenter who said a little sweat never hurt anyone: 

Absolutely Jen. A little sweat is unlikely to hurt anyone permanently. But is that really the point?

All of my college educated friends have jobs where they have air conditioning and the opportunity to leave the room to pee whenever the mood hits them. They also generally have offices (or cubicles at least) that are cleaned regularly by someone else, furnished by their company not their own pocketbook, and sometimes even a nice selection of hot beverages or a cafeteria that caters to adults. They also do not share their workspace with 20-30 hot, sweaty, grumpy people and their BO.

I know it would be expensive to air condition schools adequately, but having taught in both schools with and without air, it's a no brainer to know that hot, tired kids don't learn. Nor do hot, uncomfortable teachers effectively teach.

When I transferred from a older BCPSS school to a newer building, wonder of wonders, I stopped getting sick so much, I haven't had a single child have an asthma attack in my classroom, and I was able to stop screaming my lesson over the three box fans that I had running the entire month of June.

Don't get me started on the bugs.

Posted by: sara | May 7, 2009 6:42 AM

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:33 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Comment of the Week

Stanford 10 scores up in Baltimore

On the testing front, the good news keeps coming for Baltimore schools. This morning, the news is out that Stanford 10 scores for first- and second-graders are up substantially.

First-graders outscored 63 percent of peers in a national sample in math (up from 55 percent) and 50 percent in reading (up from 47 percent). For second-graders, those figures are 57 percent in math (up from 49) and 46 percent in reading (up from 42). And the gap between special ed and regular ed students' performance narrowed.

While we newspaper people tend to look at how this year's first-graders compare with last year's first grade and this year's second-graders compare with last year's second grade, I always find it interesting to see how a cohort is doing over time (understanding that there's going to be some turnover so we're not exactly comparing apples to apples). The second-graders who scored on average at the 57th percentile in math this year scored at the 55th percentile last year as first-graders. In reading, their performance at the 46th percentile this year is down a point from the 47th percentile last year. In other words, the gains aren't as great as when you compare the same grades against each other, but there's not a big backslide, either.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:15 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City, Testing

Baltimore County stakeholders: Would you like to take a survey?

Baltimore County schools sent out this invitation to community stakeholders -- parents, students and other residents -- to do a Stakeholder Satisfaction Survey.

So if you've got time in the coming weeks, let your digital voice be heard.  You have until June 7.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County

May 6, 2009

Murder convict as a mentor?

City Paper is reporting that Rainbow Lee Williams, a murder convict and co-defendant in the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang conspiracy case, was mentoring students at one of Baltimore's alternative schools: Achievement Academy at Harbor City. He apparently worked for the nonprofit Partners In Progress, run by Bridget Alston-Smith. City Paper says that Alston-Smith wrote a back-cover blurb for "The Black Book," a self-improvement guide for people in the BGF gang.

I've asked the city school system for the status of Partners In Progress' contracts and procedures for criminal background checks on employees of contractors.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 4:59 PM | | Comments (34)
Categories: Baltimore City, School Safety (Or Lack Thereof)

Air conditioning in Baltimore County schools: It’s getting hot again

As the temperatures are getting ready to climb, the parents advocating for air conditioning in Baltimore County schools are rallying to their cause again.
Last night’s board meeting featured a couple plugs – and even a demo – for getting cool air in the dozens of county schools without A.C. Slightly more than half of the county's 171 school, center and program buildings lack air conditioning.

Clifford Collins, the northwest-area advisory chair, made a plea for air conditioning at Old Court and Sudbrook middle schools, reflecting public comments at a recent meeting in that region.
During a brief presentation to the board, central area advisory chair Laura Mullen held up a piece of cardboard to demonstrate how little the windows open in classrooms at Ridgely Middle School, which her daughter attends. The windows used to open all the way, she said, and now open only 30 degrees. And with the shades pulled down, she added, “there is simply no air flow.” 
Last school year, Ridgely parents collected photographs of temperature gauges showing inside temperatures to be about 10 degrees higher than outside. The school’s climate-control committee is determined to get air conditioning there, Mullen said last night, asking school board members for their support.
The Ridgely parents also brought their concerns to the County Council during its public hearing on the budget last week. Time and funding are, of course, key in making this happen throughout the district. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 3:30 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore County

Alonso honored by Greater Baltimore Committee

Dr. Alonso started the day yesterday by giving Baltimore's Teacher of the Year Award to Nicholas Greer. He ended the day getting an award himself: The Greater Baltimore Committee honored him with the Howard "Pete" Rawlings Courage in Public Service Award during its annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency. This isn't an annual award; Rawlings was honored posthumously in 2004, and the only other recipient since was Sen. Paul Sarbanes in 2006. According to the GBC, the award is given on an occasional basis "to honor public officials who demonstrate exceptional courage while serving in an elected or appointed public office."

This is from the script that GBC president and CEO Don Fry read at the dinner:

Since he became CEO of Baltimore’s public school system in July 2007, Andrés Alonso has gone about the difficult work of changing the culture of a troubled school system by challenging school principals to manage their facilities, and all system employees to accept responsibility for the system’s outcomes.

Reflecting a straightforward, reform-minded approach that Delegate Rawlings was known for, Alonso has cut through the school system’s traditional politics and focused principals, teachers and school employees on results and accountability, with no excuses. Under his leadership, city schools have begun a turnaround in student achievement that is capturing the attention of parents, business advocates and the system’s many stakeholders.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:35 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 5, 2009

Milford Mill Academy and others reopening tomorrow

Based on new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Milford Mill Academy and the other Maryland schools closed because of confirmed and/or probable swine-flu cases will be reopening Wednesday, instead of Thursday as originally announced.
Posted by Arin Gencer at 4:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region, Baltimore County

Nicholas Greer's surprise

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 2:59 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Teaching

More contracts for West Towson Elementary...and note on Teacher of the Year

Baltimore County is moving forward with its plans for West Towson, as evidenced by the bevy of contracts for the new elementary school on the agenda for tonight's school board meeting.

Woodworking, roofing, flooring, waste management, steel -- you name it, it's on this long list.

The contracts caught my attention largely because of the ongoing lawsuit against the school system because of its decision to build this school next to Ridge Ruxton on Charles Street. You might recall that the school district is supposed to respond to a request for a preliminary injunction -- which would effectively halt construction plans -- by the end of Wednesday.

And on a completely unrelated note, piggybacking off of Sara's post today: Baltimore County announced its teacher of the year yesterday - Cecily Anderson, an eighth-grade English teacher at Catonsville Middle School. Anderson is known for presenting all of her students with equally challenging texts (such as unadulterated Shakespeare), in the belief that every child deserves to have a rigorous education.

In her remarks, Anderson made some people tear up as she talked about the impact the birth of her son, who has a rare genetic disease, had on her life and views as a teacher. She described how loving a child with special needs "cleansed my perspective as an educator."

"It forces me to hold myself accountable to the same degree and standards of excellence that I demand of each of you," she said, referring to her fellow educators.

Nicholas, who is now 8, goes to Westchester Elementary -- and was on hand yesterday to celebrate his mother's award.

Posted by Arin Gencer at 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Poly's Nicholas Greer is Baltimore Teacher of the Year

Nicholas Greer and Andres AlonsoIt was fun walking into the 29-year-old biology teacher's classroom this morning with Dr. Alonso, Poly Principal Barney Wilson, BTU officials, school board members, administrators and television camera crews, and an administrator toting a cart full of prizes. "You're kidding me," was the response from Greer, who was wearing a pink shirt as part of Poly's spirit week, for which students raised money for breast cancer research.

It's clear that Greer is an excellent teacher ("the best teacher I've had yet," said student Denzel Hamilton, 14). He teaches Ingenuity biology, honors bio, and Ingenuity science and computers. He also coaches Poly's boys soccer team, mentors a UMBC intern, and chairs the School Family Council at Poly.

But I have to pose the same question as I did last year: Why weren't there more candidates for the award? Greer was selected from among 13 applicants, about twice as many as last year (when there were seven, but two disqualified) and three times as many as the years before that. The application process was streamlined a bit this year but is still extensive. A teacher must be nominated by a principal or colleague, and people just don't seem to be taking the time. Dr. Alonso says he wants to start a Teacher of the Year award at each of the city's nearly 200 schools, so then in the future the citywide winner would be selected from that pool.

Cecily Anderson of Catonsville Middle School was named Baltimore County's Teacher of the Year yesterday.

The photo of Greer and Alonso above was shot by Sun photographer Lloyd Fox.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 12:49 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Baltimore City

Learning loss and school closures

While at the EWA conference, I learned about a study to be published soon by the Consortium on Chicago School Research about the learning loss that occurs following an announcement that a school is to close. It makes sense that such an announcement would have a demoralizing effect on both students and teachers for the remainder of their time together. But is that reason to keep a failing school open?

The topic came up at a session I attended Friday with Michelle Rhee and Charles Payne, author of the new book "So Much Reform, So Little Change." Rhee has closed 23 schools in Washington. Both she and Payne acknowledged that the learning loss when a school is to close is substantial but said the closures still must proceed. Payne said districts have a responsibility to ensure that students from closing schools get seats in good schools. Rhee said they should be working with teachers to ease their fears and pave the way for the smoothest transition possible.

Other interesting points they made at the session: 1) School districts need to stop changing direction every time they change superintendents or reform will never take hold. 2) Teachers are getting mandates from too many places and need to be told simply what's expected of them. 3) Improving social services alone does not radically improve student achievement and must be coupled with improving education.

See this editorial from yesterday's Sun about last week's school closure votes in Baltimore, suggesting that Dr. Alonso use the opportunity to reorganize school staffs for a better mix of new and experienced teachers.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City

May 4, 2009

Bill has a blog

Check out Bill Ferguson's new site for details of the projects he's working on for the Baltimore schools. I've added it to the blogroll.

No snarky comments, please. I appreciate the perspective Bill provides on InsideEd, and he's taken a lot of flack lately.

Speaking of which, in the name of constructive dialogue and understanding, shall we schedule another meetup before school lets out for the summer?

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:02 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

May 1, 2009

What causes students to drop out?

At a session I'm attending this morning on why kids leave, John Bridgeland of Civic Enterprises said the No. 1 cause is boredom. There's a disconnect between what they're learning in the classroom and what they want to do or what they see is relevant in their lives. Bridgeland, whose organization has studied the issue extensively, said most dropouts were spending an hour or less a night on homework and wanted to be challenged more. About a third of dropouts leave because of personal conflicts such as needing to hold a job, he said, so flexible scheduling would also help.

I'll also be posting this entry on the EWA conference blog.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:15 AM | | Comments (47)
Categories: Around the Region

Comment of the Week

Several MATHS students posted good comments this week about why a report's conclusion that charter school students in Baltimore have more advantages does not ring true for them. I'm awarding Comment of the Week to MATHS student Jabril Morris for this poignant submission: 

I don't think that the opening statement of this article is accurate because I don't come from a prviledged home because my mother is out of work and on unemployment and we are struggling to keep the lights on in the house. I transferred from a zone school when I was in the 8th grade. All I had to do was to come to maths for an interview and take a placement test. By next school year I was in MATHS. Even though I go to a charter school I still have problems at home, sometimes my mother doesn't have enough money to pay the BGE bill so our lights would be cut off.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 10:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City, Charter Schools, Comment of the Week

Spending the stimulus money

What to do with one-time stimulus money for IDEA and Title 1 that best not be used for new programs or hires? Arne Duncan told us yesterday that there's a huge need for professional development in special education -- for all teachers, not just those designated special ed. He'd love to see IDEA money spent on that and Title 1 money spent on lengthening school days, weeks and years.
Posted by Sara Neufeld at 9:08 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Around the Nation, SpecialEd

Arne Duncan addresses education writers

The Education Writers Association conference kicked off yesterday in Washington, and Arne Duncan spoke to our group last night. Some highlights (on issues I didn't talk about last week when I covered his talk at University of Maryland):

-- Unproven programs are "absolutely worth trying." Performance pay is still new in education, but it increases worker productivity in other industries. If we never try new things, we'll never know if they can work.

-- Closing failing schools in Chicago, the saddest part was showing parents the data. No one had ever talked to them, and they didn't know they were the worst in the city.

-- Districts should hold principals accountable for school culture.

-- School districts should be judged on their graduation rate -- and not necessarily a four-year rate. Nothing's wrong with giving a struggling kid extra time. And districts should not be penalized in their statistics for bringing dropouts back.

-- "If there's one word that captures my state of mind these days, it is urgency."

I had the opportunity to briefly meet Duncan after his talk, and he asked me what I think of the work Dr. Alonso is doing in Baltimore. I said it sounds like they share many of the same ideas.

Posted by Sara Neufeld at 6:07 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Nation, Baltimore City
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