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January 27, 2010

Charter schools dominate discussion at Baltimore City School Board meeting

Charter School renewal was the hottest item at last night’s Baltimore City school board meeting.

The topic generated more than an hour of debate, impassioned pleas and even a song.

Only one school -- Dr. Rayner Browne -- would not be issued a renewal under schools CEO Andres Alonso’s recommendation. Six schools -- City Springs, Collington Square, Coppin Academy, Baltimore International Academy, Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy, and Inner Harbor East Academy For Young Scholars -- would be given two-year extensions.

Three schools -- Wolfe Street Academy, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, and Independence -- received the highest recommendation of a five-year contract.

Rayner Browne did not receive a recommendation for renewal because the school saw test scores in all student subgroups decrease for mathematics the last two years. In reading, three of the four student subgroups experienced drops in test scores.

If the board follows Alonso’s recommendation and votes not to renew its contract, Rayner Browne will be in danger of closing or returning to a traditional or city school status.

Schools were judged on success of students, fiscal soundness and governess, compliance, being an effective, viable organization, and a mix of quantitative and qualitative data. 


Students, staff, and parents from a number of schools addressed the board, making individual  pleas to keep their school open as was the case with Rayner Browne -- or increasing to a five-year contract as was the case with City Springs. A group of students from that school went as far as singing a spoof of Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” to illustrate all the good things happening at their school. Several board members appeared to question the recommendations.

Board member David Stone said that the renewal process needs to be re-examined.

“A three-year contract is not significant enough time to make a decision about the school,” Stone said.

Stone said that the process involved in renewal takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the school staff.

“By the time we're done, parents and staff are battle-weary,” he said.

Board member Jerrelle Francois asked how long it takes to turn around a school.

“Can we wait two years?” she asked.

“We have to show immediately that change has taken place,” she said.

Board member George VanHook challenged other board members and staff to visit the schools in question.

“I’m troubled by the fact that one school is revoked,” VanHook said. “We don’t know what is going on if we don’t go to these schools. I have to see it for myself. There is no way you can understand the culture of the school. We need to do what we have to do to make an informed decision about the rest of these schools.”

VanHook said that charter schools serve as community centers.

“Each of these schools is engaged in an intimate process with our children,” VanHook said.

VanHook’s comments prompted Alonso to clarify that the recommendations were his, and were made after careful, extensive research.

“The recommendation to the board is mine,” he said. “It is important that the public understands where I am coming from.”

Alonso said that the standards for the school system have changed in the past couple of years.

“This is not the same school system where charters originated several years ago,” he said. “I am a huge supporter of charters. [But] I believe in accountability for all schools.”

“If you are moving backwards, you do not get a renewal,” he said.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 5:39 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Baltimore City

AIM committee reports at Baltimore County board meeting

After the school board meeting last night, I asked for and got from Superintendent Joe Hairston a copy of the minutes and recommendations of the committee that he put together to study AIM.

The committee was made up of administrators, principals, AIM trainers and a PTSA representative. Towson University Dean of the School of Education Raymond Lorion said the committee met twice for about an hour and a half each time.

While Lorion said last night that AIM has great potential, the committee recommendations he read are more nuanced.

Lorion said the curriculum component of AIM, which allows teachers access to the curriculum in an efficiently organized way on the Web, is very useful. However, he said, studies should be done to  see if the progress reporting portion of AIM is a reliable tool. In other words, will teachers in one school consistently rate their students by the same standards as teachers across town? If not, then the progress report isn't of much value.

Lorion's report also questions whether the school system has looked into how much time teachers would spend filling out AIM and then whether AIM will be of value to parents and teachers. Another key question the report raises is whether AIM provides more information to parents and teachers than they already have from the tests currently being administered.

The school board seemed divided on the issue of AIM, although only one member said that AIM should not be implemented in its current form. We haven't heard a lot from the board, so it is difficult to know what support Hairston has if he some day wants to move ahead with the idea.

In an interview after the meeting, he said he would expand the committee by adding more members to it. He said he wants all stakeholder groups to be represented. The teachers, who have complained that they haven't been represented on the committee, have some support. The committee's report notes that the teachers who took part are AIM trainers, and therefore understand the program better than the average classroom teacher.

"The need for other teachers to participate in an ongoing discussion of AIM was duly noted and affirmed," the minutes of the committee's first meeting note.

Hairston has noted that AIM could be used to meet criteria established by the federal government to get stimulus money for education, called Race to the Top. However, it isn't clear to me how that would work. Can anyone explain?

In the end, Hairston didn't completely get rid of AIM as he said it will be available to be used by teachers who want to use it, but he also didn't say whether he would want to implement it in the future. So it is difficult to predict whether the county will continue developing AIM.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:00 PM | | Comments (52)
Categories: Baltimore County

Missing pages in presentation causes a stir at Baltimore City school board meeting

One might have expected the news of a proposal that would close or revamp 12 schools might result in some tension between school board members and top ranking officials. Instead missing pages from a Power Point presentation of the proposal got folks riled up. The controversy surfaced during Chief of Staff Tisha Edwards’ presentation of the proposed changes. Midway through, she realized that the Power Point was missing several slides, which gave further information about the schools in danger of closure.

Edwards immediately apologized. She said she was well versed enough with the material to explain the missing information.

After Edwards finished, school board member Robert Heck launched into a speech where he said that the presentation was “unacceptable.” He also said he was offended by the fact that the public’s first look at the proposal was incomplete.

“We really sell ourselves short when we can’t make a simple presentation,” said Heck, who initially called the mistake a “minor point.”

Heck’s comments appeared to infuriate city schools CEO Andrés Alonso, who said that the meeting had been filled with several instances of disrespect. After calling the omission in the Power Point presentation “an embarrassment,” Alonso said that his staff works tirelessly and did not deserve the blame.

“They work too hard,” Alonso said. “We owe each other a bit more [respect.]”

The tension was cut when board member Anirban Basu joked that more people were likely watching Conan O’Brien than the marathon meeting after 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night. Alonso laughed and quickly reminded Basu that people were probably watching Jay Leno.

Posted by John-John Williams IV at 12:29 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 26, 2010

Middle school students to get some choice next year

Andres Alonso will be introducing choice to the middle schools next fall, if the school board gives its approval tonight. A story in today's paper outlines the changes he is proposing. They include closing five schools and revamping seven others. He also will be opening several new schools and expanding some charter or transformation schools that have been successful.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:10 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 20, 2010

Contractors say bids thrown out unfairly in Baltimore County

My colleague, Mary Gail Hare, writes today about minority contractors who say their bids were dismissed for minor oversights in paperwork. There is an update to her story. Late Tuesday, the day before James W. Ancel was to address the state Board of Public Works, the county purchasing office notified him that they were granting his appeal and reinstating him as the lowest responsible bidder on the Milford Mill Academy renovation. His bid had been disqualified for a minor miscue - a plus sign to show he had exceeded the required percentage - on the minority participation information he had provided. He appealed the decision and vowed to go to court, if the county schools did not resolve the matter. He and his attorney are in Annapolis today. They said they will criticize "a perfection policy" that is costing taxpayers millions more for school construction projects and asking for state review of rejections of low bidders.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:23 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore County

Questions raised about ethics of AIM

In today's paper, I write about Baltimore County teachers, parents and administrators who raise concerns over whether Barbara Dezmon should be involved in making decisions about the implementation of AIM, a program that she developed, owns and hopes to sell. In addition, a University of Maryland professor questions whether the county should have given Dezmon the copyright to the program or whether it should be the property of the county schools.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:30 AM | | Comments (35)
Categories: Baltimore County

January 19, 2010

Hundreds volunteer in Baltimore City Martin Luther King Jr. service event

Close to 700 people turned out Monday to participate in the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. The event allowed Baltimore City students, staff and parents to complete organized service projects dedicated to the memory of the leader.

Participants had the option of making Valentine's Day cards for soldiers stationed abroad; writing pen pal letters to students in Haiti; assembling arts-and-crafts kits for critically ill children at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center; making toiletry kits for homeless teenagers, senior citizens and students in foster care and group homes; and learning different ways to become more environmentally sound.

In addition to the school-based sites, participants had the option of bringing toys and treats to abused animals at Defenders of Animal Rights and preparing packages of food at Moveable Feast, an organization that assists people with terminal illnesses.

The activities were housed at the Success Academy, Southside Academy, Northeast Middle School, Antioch Diploma Plus High School and Achievement Academy at Harbor City.
"They just wanted to be there," said organizer Tamara Barron, an educational specialist for pupil services and service learning coordinator for the school system. "They just wanted to give back. They wanted to be part of Dr. King's legacy. I couldn't have asked for anything more. Everyone was energetic for the cause. It was such an amazing response."
Student leaders chose the activities during a conference in Ocean City.

More than 300 students and 50 adults signed up for the event. Organizers were pleased to have almost double that amount.
"It was unbelievable," Barron said. "I've never seen students carry on that level of leadership."
An enthusiastic Barron confirmed that the activity will become an annual event.
"We had such a great turnout," she said. "We are actually going to look for a bigger space because it was such a successful event."
Posted by John-John Williams IV at 2:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 15, 2010

Maryland schoolchildren can contribute to Haiti fund

The Maryland State Department of Education is providing the structure to allow schoolchildren a means to channel their concern over the earthquake victims in Haiti into fundraising for the devastated region. After Hurricane Katrina, the state's schoolchildren raised $1.3 million.

Today, the department announced that it would set up a fund that school systems can contribute to until Feb. 12.  For more information go to the

Are teachers out there trying to include something about Haiti in their lesson plans to help children deal with the many sad pictures they are seeing?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:59 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

January 12, 2010

AFT president calls for new approach to teacher evaluations and labor relations

In a major speech today, Randi Weingarten, the president of American Federation of Teachers, called for a reform of the way teachers are evaluated and supported during their teaching careers.

The speech comes just as states are about to apply for federal stimulus funds called Race to the Top funds. The competitive $4 billion in federal funding will go to a dozen or so states that demonstrate they have serious collaboration between teachers unions and management and have no rules that prevent test scores from being used as part of a teacher evaluation process. The feds, in other words, have made it clear that a new day is coming when school systems will use a variety of factors to evaluate teachers.

So Weingarten, whose union usually represents urban school teachers, has taken the first step toward making teachers a partner in the national debate over this sensitive issue.

She lays out four steps that school systems should take. Every state should adopt standards spelling out what teachers should know and be able to do, she said. And states should write standards for evaluating teachers that include student test scores on assessments that show growth during the year, classroom observations, portfolios and student work. The entire speech as well as a lot of additional information is available on the AFT Web site or at


Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:28 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Around the Nation

January 6, 2010

Hairston backs away from immediate use of AIM

My story in today's paper details what Joe Hairston said yesterday in an hour-long interview in his office. The story raises many questions including what AIM will finally look like in its streamlined version and when it will be used widely by county teachers.

One of the things Hairston said was that the county was going to find a way to marry the assessTrax system with AIM. He suggested that a computer program would be available in the spring to integrate the two. "Teachers aren't asked to do anything that teachers don't already do," he said.

Hairston's reversal on AIM was clear, but what will come next wasn't.

"What superintendent in America gets into this much detail?" he said in discussing how he has now set up a committee to look into streamlining the system.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:25 AM | | Comments (98)
Categories: Baltimore County
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