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August 31, 2010

New school year: Celebrations and Observations

Some Maryland students went back to schools that boasted millions of dollars in renovations and state-of-the-art upgrades. The energy of students and school leaders was almost as high as the temperatures, our reporters found, making for a great kick off to the school year. Even those who didn't have to head back to the classroom found a reason to celebrate.

In Baltimore City, schools CEO Andres Alonso kicked off his annual school tours at Mt. Washington Elementary school where Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake's daughter, Sophia, started her 2nd grade year. I took note of the language arts objectives of the day, outlined by Sophia's  teacher, and was impressed. Among them were: identifying high-frequency words, recognizing short vowel sounds, and explaining the components of a folktale.  Guess practicing fire drills and playing name games aren't the first-day protocols anymore.

The next stop was Commodore John-Rodgers Elementary/ Middle School, a turnaround school who is also building a new identity for itself this year. I noticed the city's 2010 Teacher of the Year, Brian Rainville, formerly of Maree G. Farring Elementary/Midde School was teaching at Commodore. He was delving right into intense math lessons.

Next on the tour was George W. F. McMechen Middle/High School, a school for special education students. The stop represented growth the city has made in serving its special-education students. There, students were doing everything from preparing meals to learning basic skills. Lots of waves and smile there. It was heartwarming.

And, finally there was a visit to the Walbook campus, which we feature in the story. Definitely a story of new beginnings there. The two schools who share the old building have driving forces behind them, and it will be interesting to see how they redefine the "Walbrook" legacy.  

Alonso took a second-round of tours on Tuesday, this time promoting the district's focus on attendance this year. Look for that story in tomorrow's Sun.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 29, 2010

Meet Ms. Waddell

I wrote a story that ran Sunday about Theresa Waddell, a teacher of 15 years, whose son was murdered by one of her former students.

I happened upon Waddell while doing another story at George Washington Elementary School--where Waddell will welcome her first class of kindergartners since she learned that the boy who murdered her 32-year-old son was in her very first kindergarten class in 1995. 

In addition to finding her story compelling, her presence and energy was contagious. She was a passionate teacher and vivacious woman whose tragedies defied karma. I spent some time with her, and even the interviews were as much of an emotional roller coaster as the story itself. But, the one thing that stayed consistent was her positivity and love for the children of Baltimore City.

I thought it was the perfect back-to-school story, one of new beginnings and perseverance. I hope you all do too.

Posted by Erica Green at 7:51 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 27, 2010

Back-to-school, in brief

Baltimore City schools will open its doors to 83,000 students Monday, starting the 2010-2011 school year. The only schools that will not be opening are The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, City Neighbors Charter School and the Baltimore Southwest Charter School. The three schools will welcome students on Sept. 7, and are delayed due to the contruction of their new buildings.

On Monday, I will join Dr. Alonso on his tour of schools. The tour will include, Mt. Washington Elementary, Commodore John Rodgers, George W.F. McMechen, and the old Walbrook Campus. We'll also visit others in the county. Check out The Sun throughout the day on Monday, to see what the energy is like in the schools.

There was a lot of excitement in the week leading up to the new year. Of course, the state is celebrating it's win of Race to the Top funds. Also, if you missed it this week, we did report the official announcement of new principals at three schools who were at the center of controversy last school year. The students at Gilmor Elementary School, the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship, and City College will start the year anew with fresh leadership--and many parents and sources have called me to breathe a sigh of relief. They are among the last  round of what has been a slew of new assignments that took place this year.  

In other back-to-school news, communities are coming together to ensure that students are prepared for the new year. The residents of Charles Village raised nearly $8,000 to buy uniforms for students of their community school, Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle. According to the Rev. Jennifer DiFrancesco of Second Presbyterian Church, more than 22 volunteers, including teachers and the school's principal came out last week to size students for back-to-school style. 

Those who missed the event will have a chance to order their uniforms the first few weeks of school, she said, adding that the community's goal is to have all the students in their new uniforms by Back to School Night on September 15, 2011.  If you'd like to help donate to student uniforms this year, City schools is sending you here.

As the first week gets underway, the school system is promoting use of their call center. The number is 443-984-2000. Central Office staff will be available from 7 a.m. - 5 p.m. to answer your questions.

Happy and safe school year to all!

Posted by Erica Green at 5:32 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 25, 2010

Fordham Institute gives Baltimore a "C" grade in reform friendliness

The day that Baltimore celebrated receiving at least $46 million in federal dollars to implement sweeping education reforms in the district, I wrote about a Fordham Institute report , that concluded Baltimore, as a city, is not fertile ground for change.

The authors of the report maintain that while city schols CEO Andres Alonso is undoubtedly the embodiment of reform--though maybe too abrasive-- his efforts are hampered by what they called a "hostile teacher's union," and lack of support from outside agencies, including the state department of education, the mayor's office and even The Sun's editorial pages. They also cite a sluggish central office staff as an impediment to Alonso's efforts.

As always, there's but so much space in the paper, so feel free to read the entire report here:(clicking on Baltimore's specific profile will get you the nitty-gritty)

Posted by Erica Green at 1:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore the biggest beneficiary of Race to the Top funds

Maryland had lots to celebrate Tuesday, when it received word that it was among the 10 awardees of federal Race to the Top funds, a $4.3 billion education competition held by the  U.S. Department of Education to encourage education reforms across the nation. Maryland will receive $250 million in September, and will begin implementing reforms to boost student achievement, reduce achievement gaps among student subgroups, improve teaching and turn around struggling schools in the nation.

Baltimore will be among the districts leading those efforts.

The city stands to be the biggest beneficiary of the funds, receiving at least $46 million of the funds. Baltimore apparently played a critical role in the state's reform efforts because it hosts a minority population of approximately 92 percent and is home to approximately 52 percent of the state’s high-poverty schools.

In the state's proposal, the city was identified as a “critical partner for reform."  And a release sent out by the city's school system yesterday shows that their checklists and checkbooks are ready. Read below to see what's in the works for the city's Race to the Top reforms:


 According to the school system, the city will benefit from their share of the funds in the following ways:
• It is one of seven pilot districts for a new teacher evaluation system that will begin operating statewide in 2012-13 and, if teachers meet certain performance criteria, they could be eligible for additional dollars as soon as 2011-12.
• Starting this fall, its New Leaders for New Schools leadership training model will be expanded to train highly effective principals to lead urban schools. Currently, City Schools has 41 principals trained through New Leaders and eight assistant principals.
• Eleven of its schools will benefit from additional state attention and resources as part of the state’s commitment to turning around its 16 lowest achieving schools; of these 11 in Baltimore City, eight are schools that will embark on turnarounds this school year

What Race to the Top reforms are you most looking forward to ?

Posted by Erica Green at 12:00 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 24, 2010

Maryland wins Race to the Top

Maryland was one of the nine states and the District of Columbia to win a portion of the $3.4 billion in education funding. The state will receive $250 million.

It is interesting to look at the scoring of the competition. In the first round the winners scored 440 points. This time the lowest scorers had 440 points.

Maryland tied with the District of Columbia for a score of 450 and came in sixth overall. Massachusetts had a score of 471.

U.S. Secretary of Education said he would like to have funded a number of other states that he believed had good applications, but that he ran out of funds.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

August 23, 2010

Race to the Top announcement expected Tuesday

So tomorrow we find out which states won the big race for education dollars called Race to the Top. Maryland could claim as much as $250 million in federal funds. If we win, Maryland will have a little extra money to spend to enact a bunch of reforms.

While the state has committed to  those reforms, they aren't likely to happen so quickly without the bucks. But there's another issue here and that is the political fall out. Getting the money is a win for O'Malley who I'm guessing would be happy to use the state's education record in his bid to keep his job.

The announcement is expect around noon.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 3:21 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation

City and Poly under scrutiny

In a my story on Sunday about City and Poly, I detail how many people believe the standards for the two premier high schools should be raised. What is clear in subsequent e-mails and phone calls I have received is that many students, teachers and alumni believe that the major issue is the preparation of students coming into the schools. They say the middle schools just aren't preparing students well enough for rigorous courses in high school. Students who haven't done hard homework in their elementary and middle schools aren't ready for it in high school.

I would like to know what readers believe should be done at the schools to better prepare graduates. Should the schools tighten their entrance requirements or should they try to deal with the students as they come? Should the middle schools institute gifted programs to begin preparing a larger contingent of students to go on to the selective high schools?


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:33 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 20, 2010

Mary Cary leaves her position in Baltimore County

Mary Cary, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Baltimore County, left her job this week.

Phyllis Reese, a spokeswoman for the system, said her understanding is that Cary resigned.

A longtime employee of the school system, who had once been principal of Carver Center for the Arts, Cary left the system about a decade ago to work in a upper level position at the Maryland State Department of Education. She returned to the county this summer to be the highest level academic administrator.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:19 PM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Around the Region

What's your take on the "state of the schools?"

Baltimore City CEO Andres Alonso delivered his annual "State of the Schools" address this week, and sent the message to school leaders that the district cannot afford to take one step back as the school system shifts its focus to curriculum reforms to strengthen what's taking place in the classroom.

It was an emotional address to principals and other school system leaders, where Alonso outlined how improvements in student attendance, teacher quality and strong leadership are vital to the success of the district going forward. The city's academic curriculum is already under intense scrutiny, as it begins to measure its standards against those of the "common core standards" that were recently adopted by the state.

Alonso pointed out the district needs to take notice of declines in eighth-grade performance. While sixth-graders saw leaps in math test scores this year, eighth graders fell behind in the subject. Only 39 percent of eigth graders were proficient in math--the lowest marks in the district.  Alonso said educators must do better, calling eighth-grade the "bottom-line" grade since it's where students often reach a crossroads of starting and finishing high school.

Other areas of improvement include closing the achievement gap between the city's middle and elementary school students. The city's elementary school students have historically far outpaced those in the middle grades, though the gap closes slightly less every year. But, elementary school students still dominate by a long shot.

As far as high school students, Alonso presented data to principals this week that showed that the district is relying too heavily on bridge projects for the High School Assessments, but that preliminary numbers show the the city's graduation rate has increased and the dropout rate has decreased. Still, high school students' attendance rates, while at 83 percent, are significantly less than the other grade levels, and their truancy rates are starkly higher.

It seems that the last school year was a calm before another storm of transition. What is your take on the state of the city's schools?

Posted by Erica Green at 3:11 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 16, 2010

Text alerts: Breaking news at your fingertips

The Baltimore Sun is now offering text alerts to inform readers of breaking news first and fast.

Last week, those signed up for our text alerts were the first to know that the fate of City College's principal, Tim Dawson, had finally been decided after meeting the Baltimore City Schools CEO Andres Alonso.  Two days before, readers who receive our text alerts were the first to know that a City College staff member had been charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old student.

To sign up for text alerts, go to or text NEWS to 70701.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:07 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region

Baltimore County families must verify residency

Once again, Baltimore County is requiring parents of all rising sixth- and ninth-graders to provide proof of residency. Yes, the county is making every family do this even if the family has lived in the same house for the past 15 years and their children have spent the past nine years in the county schools.

Seems like a lot of paperwork, but the county has said many families are trying to sneak into schools in areas they don't live in.

Here's what proof the county wants: a photo identification, a lease or deed and three pieces of mail sent to the home address within the last 60 days. The documents need to be provided by August 27 or the student will be withdrawn from the school system.

I am wondering if parents or administrators are finding this a burden or a necessity? 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:24 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore County

August 11, 2010

City's "Back to School Rally" scheduled for Friday

Baltimore City's annual "Back-to-School" rally is scheduled to take place on Friday, Aug.13, from 3-7 p.m., at city school headquarters.

Baltimore schools CEO Andres Alonso and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake are scheduled to attend the rally, which will be hosted at 200 E North Ave. A host of resources will be available  to get students prepared to head back to the classroom on Aug. 30.  The local radio station and annual co-sponsor of the event, 92Q, will also be taking part in the festivities this year.

Between 3 and 7 p.m., the city will host immunizations (parents will need to bring their student's shot records), and attendees will have access to several agencies, such as: the Department of Social Services, divisions of the city school system, the National PTA, and more.

Additionally, students can register to receive free school supplies (parents can register online at, or on site at the rally). According to a flier from the school system, registration for free school supplies is required, and students must be present to receive their supplies.

For more information, call 410-396-4735 or go to

Posted by Erica Green at 4:00 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Baltimore City

August 5, 2010

City schools passed over for innovation grants, but area education entities to cash in

The Baltimore City school system received word Thursday that it was not among the 49 districts, schools and nonprofit organizations that would receive multimillion-dollar innovation grants from the U.S. Department of Education. The education department announced the winners of more than $650 million in Investing in Innovation, or "i3" funding, for which the city applied for about $23 million.

The city faced some stiff competition. Some 1,700 nonprofits and school districts applied for the school districts competition, including 30 in Maryland.

With the funds, the school system would have revamped the old model for how teachers are compensated with a measure called the Career Ladder that rewards teachers for the amount of professional development they get and their ability to apply what they learn, rather than paying teachers as they get more advanced degrees. The grant would have also paid for a data system to track whether the professional development that teachers are getting is having an impact in the classroom.

The other three projects would have gone toward establishing a Family Institute to give parents more information about child development and how they can help their children achieve;  a program for improving nutrition and fitness in 10 high poverty schools; and a program to do on-site, two-day reviews of schools every three years.

The school system maintained that although they did not receive the funding, they would continue to pursue the initiatives.

“The i3 grant propositions that we submitted reflects the high level of work already underway in the district," said city schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster. "This innovative work will continue, and in the coming days we will explore other potential funding options.”

But some area institutions, some heavily invested in Baltimore's schools, did receive the financial go-ahead to start innovating.

The Baltimore-based Success for All Foundation and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools were among those who will receive substantial funding for innovative programs aimed at closing the achievement gap and improving outcomes for high-need students, according to the U.S. Education Department.

Success for All Foundation could be awarded up to $50 million, and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools up to $30 million.  The KIPP foundation, which operates two city school academies, was also chosen to be awarded up to $50 million.

All three organizations were in the top 4 of the highest rated applications. The Education Department selected its 49 proposals based on recommendations from independent peer review panels, who judged on a 100-point scale.  

The i3 fund is part of a $10 billion investment in federal school reform to support local efforts for innovative education ideas. Applicants were required to show previous successes in closing achievement gaps, improving student progress toward proficiency, increasing graduation rates, or recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and principals.

Those chosen must match their funds with private-sector contributions by Sept. 8, or risk losing their grants.

While the i3 funds were only available this year, the Obama administration has requested an additional $500 million in funding for the program in 2011, so the school system could have better luck next year.

Posted by Erica Green at 8:00 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Around the Region

August 2, 2010

City/Poly Principal Shake-up: Yes, we've heard the rumors

Many of our readers are wondering if we've heard the buzz surrounding the possible replacement of the principals at City College and the Polytechnic Institute -- two of the city's premier high schools.

The answer is: yes, the buzz started for us about two weeks ago -- when a source mentioned casually that the retirement of Western High School's principal would leave the top seats at three of Baltimore's flagship high schools vacant.

However, the position of the Western High principal is posted on the city schools Web site, and the others are not. The Western job joins the dozens of principal changes, reassignments included, that have taken place this summer (look for a story on that soon), and I have the stack of personnel reports -- which are made public after the school board approves them -- to prove it has been quite the summer of leadership turnover.

But Barney Wilson, the principal of Poly, and Tim Dawson, the principal of City, have not been among the turnovers. 

Granted, City and Poly aren't just ordinary schools -- which makes it all the more difficult to move on speculation. And believe me, no one's talking, just yet.

My sources tell me that it is anticipated that at least one of these leaders won't go down without a fight.

Another point: Last week, I watched as the board could not decide whether to uphold recommendations for terminations of two employees by CEO Andres Alonso, ultimately tabling the recommendations until the next board meeting on Aug 10.  It is not known who those employees might be.

Here's what we know about the debate taking place around the principals of City and Poly:

In the case of City College, Neil Bernstein, a permanent board emeritus member of City College's alumni association, said the group of heavily invested, well-connected and vocal alums tabled a vote of "no confidence" for the school's principal last month.

Bernstein also said that he was under the impression that "the deal was done," when it came to the removal of Dawson. But he maintained the association had no inclination that any dismissal would happen this year.

“The alumni association did not ask for the dismissal of Principal Dawson, but a resolution of no confidence had been tabled at a meeting," Burnstein said. "That’s not to say that individual board members have not made known their concern about Principal Dawson’s administration.”

He admitted that he wasn't a fan of Dawson, himself.

“I did not think he had the wisdom, nor the commitment, to a fluid college preparatory program that City provides," Bernstein said.

But, even Bernstein admitted that "'it's not done til it's done."

We've attempted to reach the Poly Alumni Association and Dawson and Wilson but have not heard back from them.

The school system would not comment on any personnel matters.

Posted by Erica Green at 7:14 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Baltimore City
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