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May 31, 2011

A call for accountability in Alonso's new central reorganization plan

Baltimore city school board members have requested a full presentation on how schools will benefit from city schools CEO Andres Alonso's recent central reorganization plan, which will expand the number of staff in school "network" teams and add 15 new administrators.

In Alonso's most recent central office shakeup, he eliminated 89 filled positions in order to triple the number of staff in 'networks--teams of staff Alonso created in 2009 to support principals by serving as liaisons to the central office. The district also will hire 15 new executive directors to fill $125,000 grant-funded positions. They will evaluate principals, and coach them through reforms.

School board members voiced the concern that, while the reorganization is tied to the next year's budget that was adopted last week, they needed more explanation about how the central changes will help schools.

"When you look at the changes that are proposed, they're supposed to have the greatest import at the schools... we can't articulate it to our constituents," said school board Commissioner Maxine Wood, who requested a full presentation. 

Commissioner David Stone said during reorg discussions that he would like to see the district evaluate how effective the networks have been. He also said that if network staff--who currently make between $75,000 and $118,000--are considered an important part of schools' success, they should also be among the school leaders who are held accountable for student achievement.

City schools spokesman Michael Sarbanes said that, "the network ought to be making the schools succeed," and that their "evaluations will be tied to student outcomes, the same way [achievement] is tied to everything else." He said the district was in the process of figuring out the best way to do such an evaluation.

City schools CEO Andres Alonso said that the networks, "have touched everything," citing examples like dropout prevention initiatives, schools' budget processes, and compliance for students with disabilities.

"They have been all hands on deck for every initiative in the past two years," Alonso said. "We cannot possibly move forward with our new initiatives without increased support from the networks and the increased support and accountability that will come with the executive directors.

He pointed to a survey the district conducted, where the majority of principals (added: appeared to be a mixed bag, vets and new) surveyed said that their networks met or exceeded their expectations. The district compiled excerpts of surveys taken in 2009 and 2010, where the principals who responded said that they had a lot of interaction with network staff, though mostly in meetings. 

But, more importantly, the survey said that, "the biggest need expressed by principals was for more direct attention to classroom instruction."

In the new, 8-person-networks, there will be specialists in the following areas: data, family and community engagement, special education, human capital, and operations (facilities). There will also be a student support liaison and two academic liaisons.

While the teams will be led by experienced principals, school officials said, they will include specialists from different fields and from outside the system. The two on each team who work in academic support roles will be from educational background.

At least one principal, who said they generally found their network team useful, sent me a one-word response when I asked how they felt about the expansion: "OVERKILL," they wrote.

Urban education experts lauded the board for asking tough questions about the expansion of school networks, particularly because similar structures in other districts, like New York City, have been criticized for being ineffective.

Jessica Shiller, education policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth, said that in her research as a teacher, researcher and higher ed professor of urban education in New York City she found that networks failed at providing the support they were designed for. She said their effectiveness varied depending on who staffed them and whether principals had the wherewithal to figure out who did what.

“The schools I was doing research in, they weren’t getting the support they were needed,"Shiller said. “The networks are well-intentioned, but it was like giving somebody a piece of furniture that they had to put together with no instruction manual, calling the support line, and no one answers the phone."

Shiller also said she advocated holding networks accountable for student achievement. “Accountability measures don’t allow you to count for support that the principals receive or not," she said. "If anyone is going to be accountable, let’s hold the networks accountable. Because it's not fair.”

Alonso said that student achievement has continued to rise in districts (Added:Boston, Charlotte and Atlanta) that have similar structures, and that the district is attempting to shape and implement its own best practices.

"What we know is that central offices are notoriously inefficient across the country," Alonso said.   "And the districts that are showing improvement...tend to organize their work around integrated supports, with lots of attention to supporting schools."

"We are having our stab at it," he said.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:00 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

May 30, 2011

Western High School alumnae association endorses graduation policy, denounces recent senior behavior

I was forwarded a letter (below) that was sent by the Western High School's alumnae association endorsing the schools' practice of not allowing students to walk across the stage and receive their diploma if they didn't seek an acceptance at a four-year-university.

One student and her parents revealed the little-known fact in a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago about making a "last-ditch effort" to obtain an acceptance letter from Coppin State University, when her acceptance and commitment to Anne Arundel Community College wasn't good enough. (This story came on the heels of another story about  the school revealing that several students' college acceptances, some to Ivy League schools, had been compromised because the school didn't send documents.)

The graduation requirement sparked a heated debate among Western alum and throughout the district about whether it was fair, and whether Western--the only college-preparatory school in the city to have such a rule--should continue it. Western's Principal Alisha Trusty said she would not enforce the policy this year, and would engage the community in a discussion about whether it should be suspended.

According to the letter below, Western's alumnae association thinks it should stand. They also address the recent negative media attention that Western has received after a series of dangerous senior pranks led Trusty to cancel two senior traditions. 

The full letter is below:

A SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM WHSAA PRESIDENT AIMEE AYERS
On behalf of the Western High School Alumnae Association, Inc. (WHSAA, Inc.), I write this letter with a sense of disbelief. Recently, Western High School has been highlighted in the media for negative reasons which stand to impact our academic standards.
In addition to being known as the country's oldest all-girl public high school, Western High School is also known for providing an excellent education.

In its 166 years of existence, young ladies have elected to attend the school because of its reputation for academic excellence. Similarly, parents made the decision to send their daughters to Western because of its strong academic program.

It is true that the expectations and requirements of Western High School students are more rigorous than those of some Baltimore City high schools. Every young lady, as well as their parent or guardian, was made aware of the school's expectations and requirements when they chose to enroll into Western High School.


Each year a copy of the student handbook is given to every student with the academic and behavioral standards. Parents are made aware of the standards through the handbook, website, newsletter, class parent nights, and PTA meetings. Just as the Maryland State Board of Education has requirements for earning a Maryland State Diploma - Western High School has clearly articulated its requirements as well.

After four academically challenging years at Western High School every young lady should EXPECT to PROUDLY walk across the stage knowing she EARNED her Western High School diploma.


In addition to earning a Western High School diploma, every young lady should be accepted into a four year college upon graduation. As a college preparatory school, one should expect this or the question should be asked "Has the school met its mission?" An integral part of the mission of WHSAA, Inc. is "to foster and preserve the high academic, social, economic, and professional standards associated with the school since its inception in 1844."

We must support the school as they take steps to ensure that every young lady meets the mission of the school by being accepted to at least one four year college or university. No one is requiring students to attend a four year college after graduation, but the acceptance is an important confirmation that we have met our goal as a college preparatory school. We want every lady to be able to make informed choices about their career after high school.


Western High School prides itself on being "Only the Best". The school's mascot is the Dove, which symbolizes the essence of a Western lady. Doves fly above the crowd with quiet dignity, gentility, uniqueness, poise, and elegance. Any behavior that demonstrates anything otherwise is unacceptable.

Students, parents, and staff members should understand that there is no place for unseemly behavior in our school. Anything that could possibly endanger the safety of others is definitely not acceptable in any educational environment.

Western High School's purpose is to produce well-rounded young ladies that are academically and socially prepared for the world. We will not support any student activities that do not demonstrate the qualities of our mascot.


Western High School Alumnae Association, Inc. is supportive of Western High School and will do anything to preserve our legacy.
 
"Lucem Accepimus, Lucem Demus"
We have received light; let us give forth light
 
 
Sincerely,
Aimee Ayers
President of Western High School Alumnae Association, Inc.
________________________________________

Posted by Erica Green at 6:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Legislators to meet with Hairston

On Tuesday, Baltimore County's superintendent, Joe A. Hairston, is expected to meet with the county delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. The meeting will be at 4 p.m. at Greenwood and is expected to be open to the public. Hairston will be answering questions the delegation asked him during the session in a brief meeting. The delegation asked for a longer meeting when they had more time. I will guess that cuts in teacher positions are likely to be one of the subjects up for discussion. With high school schedules soon to be completed, Hairston doesn't have much time to put positions back into the high schools. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 7:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

May 28, 2011

Budget breakdown: A look at how city schools fared this budget season

Update June 1: So far, I have confirmed that Northwestern, City, Patterson, Roland Park also noted among the largest decreases--Patterson with the most at $1.2 million. More information to come on the losses/gains. Was also told that getting losses/gains for all 200 schools is nearly impossible (at least in a timely manner). I can post percentages as well.

The Baltimore city school board adopted a $1.3 billion budget for next year, in which the amount being allocated to schools will increase by about 1 percent from last year.

However, principals will receive millions less in "flexible" money, which gives schools the autonomy to staff their schools and provide resources for their students. School officials said the funding squeeze came as a result of more funding designated for specific purposes, like special ed; rising costs, particularly in salaries and benefits; and revenues remaining flat while enrollment increased.

This has resulted in various schools facing difficult decisions, and worrying that they will lose momentum in their progress.

Due to time constraints (the budget was presented in a piece-meal format with Powerpoints, and not released in its entirety until four days before the board vote), there wasn't much dialogue about the impact of this year's challenges.

Below, I have compiled some information about how schools fared this budget season, including how many schools are losing/gaining and on average how much. You can also take a look at the top 5 schools that lost/gained the most funding for next year, and how school officials explain whether the city's neighborhood and struggling schools can sustain under the current funding model.

A few weeks ago, the school system provided a summary of how many schools gained and how many lost this year. According to that data, 103 schools experienced funding decreases, with the losses averaging about $231,302; 77 schools saw an increase in funding next year, at an average gain of $394,195. 

But many schools noted changes that were well beyond the average, and the pain was spread throughout the city.

Arundel Elementary/Middle School, a Cherry Hill Neighborhood school that made AYP for the first time ever last year, will lose more than $340,000. Roland Park Elementary/Middle School parents went to a budget hearing and asked school board members to explain the $600,000 cut to the high achieving school.

Roland Park parents went to a city school budget hearing and asked officials to explain the decrease. 

Elizabeth Reichelt was part of a group, looking to understand the decrease, especially after she and other parents stood in the rain to protest state lawmakers in Annapolis to restore all city school funding.


“We understood that there were going to be these huge cuts, and thanks to the advocacy we were going to be avoiding those cuts,” Reichelt said. “So we were really caught off guard when there were still cuts at the school level.”


She said that she hopes that, “principals be given the support that they need to be creative and look at things in a whole new way,” she said. “Because it’s really hard to figure out where to cut when you’re losing resources.”

It is still unclear how many teaching positions will be lost next year, though we've heard that the number of surplus teachers is swelling.

School officials said that final budgets, with all full-time positions, are due in June. So far, teachers at Polytechnic Institute have spoken out against losing 9 teachers, and Baltimore School for the Arts students have protested losing 2 teachers and a staff member. 

Apparently, similar scenarios are unfolding across the district.

“A number of principals are facing loss of staff,” said Jimmy Gittings, head of the principal’s union. “They have to make decisions to keep an assistant principal or lose two teaching positions, and that puts them between a rock and a hard plate.”

The school system also provided me with the list of schools that noted the largest budget increases and decreases:

Under the district's Fair Student Funding model, schools receive money based on enrollment numbers. School officials said that the decreases and increases were based on enrollment, and the amount of additional money that schools received for basic, advanced and special education students. It should also be noted that in most charter agreements, many are approved to expand by adding a new grade each year, so charter enrollment is designed to grow.

The top five gainers were all charter or transformation schools, and the schools that lost the most money were predominantly neighborhood and large, high schools--some of which have been struggling for some time.

Here is the list the school system provided (Note: for those who are wondering, yes, I have questions about why some schools weren't included as well--will check on that).

1. Furman L. Templeton Elementary gained $2 million, and 42 new students

2. Vanguard Collegiate Middle School gained $1.23 million and 157 new students

3. City Neighbors High School gained $1 million and 88 new students

4. Green Street Academy gained $1 million and 100 new students

5. NACA Freedom and Democracy Academy II gained $679,139 and 55 students

Schools that lost the most funding this year:

1. Frederick Douglass High School lost $1.2 million and 127 students

2. Forest Park High School lost $979, 201 and 104 students

3. Reginald F. Lewis which lost $610,745 and 127 students

4. Lyndhurst Elementary School lost $319,778 and 39 students

5. Southside Academy lost $487,107 and 36 students

In discussing the list, I asked school officials if neighborhood and big, city high schools will be able to sustain under the current funding model.

For example, Reginald F. Lewis experienced one of the biggest funding cuts this year. But, it's the school that city schools CEO Andres Alonso reassigned to Barney Wilson, former principal of the high achieving Polytechnic Institute, last year to help turn around.

“Sometimes you have a school that absolutely has to turn around, and work like hell to do it," said Michael Sarbanes, spokesman for the school system. "But sometimes the perception is such that it's not where [families] want to be, and they lose funds. The money follows the kids.”

Sarbanes said that Douglass and Reginald F. Lewis will receive grant funding this year to help with turnaround efforts.

However, NACA II charter leaders expressed concern about their sustainability at a school board meeting earlier this year, after the school's enrollment numbers and budget decreased two years in a row. They seem to be on the upswing. 

Posted by Erica Green at 10:30 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

May 27, 2011

Racing to the Top, part two

There's another chance for nine states who lost out last year in the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top to try again for a total of $200 million. Maryland was one of the winners, and the state is now about to have the benefit of an additional $250 million in dollars for schools in return for agreeing to certain reforms.

The department also announced yesterday that it will offer states that chance to compete for $500 million to improve early learning programs it considers so important in improving educational outcomes for children.

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:25 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

May 26, 2011

Baltimore County Council expresses concern for its lack of control over school spending

The county council released its budget message today. The council members, most of whom are new this year, said they were frustrated with the school system on a number of fronts, but they stopped short of taking any action to cut administrative costs in the school system.

Some members had suggested to Superintendent Joe A. Hairston that he look for cuts in administrative dollars in the budget rather than move 196 teachers, mostly in the high schools, as well as not fund another 55 positions that would be needed to maintain class sizes.

The chairman of the council, John Olsweski said "that the state law places many roadblocks in the path of a local government's demand for accountability for the funds it provides for its public schools."

He said that even though the county is required to supply the funds for schools "accountability for the efficent use of these funds is, sadly, not a part of the equation."

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

City violence strikes school communities

As the school year comes to an end, so have four too many lives of Baltimore city students.

Today, the principal of Montebello Elementary/Middle School led a story about a recent spate of  violence in the city that has claimed the lives of two Baltimore city students. The most recent incident left one of Montebello's seventh graders clinging to life after he and his friends were shot Tuesday night while watching the NBA playoff game.  

Of the four who were shot in that shooting, 12-year-old Sean Johnson, an active student who was academically astute, is the only victim not expected to survive. Among the other victims was a high-school senior who is going to college on a scholarship next year.

Sean will be the youngest victim to succumb to gun violence since 2006, the third Baltimore city student to be slain in the last two weeks, the fourth death of a city school student in the same time period, and hopefully, the last student that school communities will mourn this year.

Dashawn Brown, a 17-year-old junior at Carver Vocational-Technical High School who was enrolled in a carpentry program, was fatally stabbed Sunday; and Marcus Nickens Jr., a 19-year-old junior at Southside Academy, was shot to death May 19. And on May 20, Lishinia Miller, 17, a senior at Excel Academy at Frances M. Wood High School, died when a stolen vehicle in which she was a passenger crashed into a tree on Belair Road.

City schools CEO Andres Alonso somberly acknowledged at the city school board meeting Tuesday, that, "we've been spared this in past years," and that the deaths have undoubtedly added to the angst of the school year's end.

City school officials are worried about the trend as students' time in school draws to an end.  

 “We believe that young people, while they’re at school, they are safe," said Jonathan Brice, executive director of school support and safety. "We know that the data indicates that violence is going down, but my concern is what happens when kids are out of school for the summer--if they will have opportunity to be involved in productive things that will help them be successful, and hopefully help them stay away from situations that would lead to what we’ve seen recently.”

Montebello Principal Camille Bell gave a powerful interview yesterday, those rare ones that come from raw emotion, strong conviction, and can only be given by a school leader whose job is to protect hundreds of children for the first 18 years of their lives.

Bell, who lost a student last year to H1N1 virus, has faced tragedy before. But to lose a student to violence brings a whole set of emotions, she said.

"It's very hard to lose a student, especially one that you raise," she said. "As a professional, you go through the motions of dealing with it, and making sure everyone is OK. But, nothing prepares you for this. Ever."

Yesterday, Bell spent the day talking with students about their feelings in the wake of Sean's shooting. Many of those conversations involved their brushes with city violence.

“The things that you listen to are heartbreaking," Bell said. "I heard children say, ‘my brother was murdered, my mother was beaten up.’ You hear all of these stories, and these are 11 and 12 year old kids. And I think to myself: ‘Why are things so difficult. Why do their lives have to be so difficult?"

“Our children exist under distress," she said. "...as a community, as a city, we come up with a way to save our children."

Posted by Erica Green at 11:28 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

May 24, 2011

Charter vs. traditional school funding: A formula for confusion

In a story Monday, I explored the perceived gap between the amount of per-pupil cash allocated to charters and the amount given to traditional schools. The story started with the question: Why, in the city schools budget, do charters receive $9,300 and traditional schools' $5,000.

For three days, I spoke and emailed with dozens of people--many of whom were grateful for my even attempting to sort it out--and poured through our archives to figure it out.

It all comes down to a formula. A very, complex formula derived from a simple request charters made six years ago.

It all started in 2005 when the first wave of charters led a hard-fought campaign that started with the state board of education and ended in Maryland's second-highest court.

Charter leaders believed that an innovative school was restrained by the traditional funding model. Charters wanted the total amount of money spent on each student in cash, rather than the traditional model of deducting central office costs before determining per-pupil allotments.

The state board granted charters the formula--with a few stipulations like paying 2 percent in administrative costs--along with more cash and flexibility.

In 2006, district leaders decided to fight the decision in court, arguing that the formula would end up shortchanging traditional schools. They lost the fight.

The final decision, ruling in favor of charters, was handed down by the Maryland Court of Appeals the month Alonso arrived in 2007--with a plan to open more charters, and a new formula for how the district could have "Fair Student Funding," in tying money to enrollment numbers.

But, Alonso said that as charter enrollment continues to increase, "the present solution cannot hold," affirming the fears the district had six years ago.

Alonso wants to revisit the charter formula. He said that by design, the formula exempts charters from central office budget crunches, shifting the burden of flat revenues and increased costs to traditional schools. 

Charter leaders resent the simplification of the allotments, and denounce the notion that their students receive more per-pupil funding.

While the same amount of money is spent on every student, charters see it in cash and traditional schools see it in services. The $9,300 and $5,000 reflect those differences, they say. 

Of course, charters also have expenses that traditional schools don't. Though, some would argue that charters use a lot of district services that they don't 'pay for.

It seems that this debate has been brewing for some time. Now that it's boiled over, charter and district leaders have vowed to figure out the formula that will adequately fund all schools. School leaders and advocates say that whatever the solution, it has to result in fair funding for all.

Posted by Erica Green at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

May 20, 2011

Frederick County parent wins Comcast award tonight

 There's a lot of talk about parents not being involved enough in their children's schools and education, but today the state honors 24 parents who have been exceptionally involved in a school, and one who has been given the fourth annual Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Award.

Shawna Capotosto of Frederick County works with the parents of special needs students to help them understand the system and find services so that their children can be successful in school. She advocates for children with special needs and sits with parents at  meetings with school officials. She serves on about half a dozen school committees. She won the award tonight at 6 p,m. at an award ceremony at North County High School in Glen Burnie.

 

She was chosen from five finalists, including David Conn of Mt. Washington Elementary School; Tom Willis of Rock Hall, Sophally McCormick of Montgomery County and Benjamin Brumbley of Wicomico.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region
        

May 19, 2011

Anne Arundel Superintendent Maxwell voices concerns over school budget

Anne Arundel County Superintendent Kevin Maxwell on Thursday warned that decreases in county funding to the proposed Fiscal Year 2012 school budget would have ramifications that “could shake the very foundations of our school system,” in a statement that he said echoed concerns that county auditor Teresa Sutherland made regarding school funding. Sutherland could not be reached for comment.

Maxwell said that decreases in county funding could affect the quality of education in the county not only for next year but well into the future. He added that County Executive John Leopold’s operating budget proposal for FY2012 does not meet a state requirement, known as maintenance of effort, that mandates counties provide as much per-pupil funding to their school systems for the upcoming year as in the previous year.

The County Council must approve its version of the budget by June 1, and then the county Board of Education must approve a final budget by June 30. Overall, the county is proposing to give the school system $556.1 million for next year; last year it approved $562.4 million.

“With an additional 1,000 students projected again next year, class sizes – already set to rise because we have not added new general fund positions for three years – would increase dramatically,” Maxwell said. “Further, I worry that the progress we have made to date will be curtailed, and perhaps reversed.

“The capital budget picture is even more bleak,” Maxwell added. “Should the county take a $70 million hit in its funding level, as the county auditor warned, school construction projects could be delayed for years or even decades. The compounding effect means that we may never see the $1.5 billion maintenance backlog eradicated in our lifetime.”

County executive Leopold, in response to Maxwell’s statement, said, “It’s important that we maintain the quality of life with which the county residents have every reason to expect that we will provide. These are extremely challenging economic times. I would hope that the economy will improve in the near future, and we have to do all we can to maintain our quality of life.

“The property tax rate is less than it was when I took office and is still the lowest property tax rate in the Baltimore-Washington region. I believe that the auditor, the school superintendent and I are all on the same page in recognizing these realities.”

Posted by Joe Burris at 6:34 PM | | Comments (0)
        

More instances of students caught by zero tolerance

After today's story on a student in Anne Arundel suspended because she had pepper spray,  I received another call this morning from a parent upset about zero tolerance policies. This was a call that came from a county in the Baltimore metro area. The student had been suspended and arrested for a knife. His mother said he was depressed and worried that his mistake would screw up his life forever.

I was wondering what readers of the blog think about these instances of zero tolerance. Are there teachers who believe that the school policies serve a purpose and even if some students are caught in a rather unforgiving system, the cost is worth it to keep the rest of the school safe?

Or are more of you worried by the harm that is being done to students who are suspended?

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:57 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Around the Region
        

May 18, 2011

University of Baltimore student walks across the stage at age 72

 My colleague Don Marcus filed the following story:

Bailey Saint Clair received a standing ovation from many of his fellow University of Baltimore graduates during Sunday's commencement at the Lyric.  At 72, Saint Clair was not only the oldest of those receiving their diplomas, but also the most persistent.

 It took him 50 years to get there.

 Saint Clair, who grew up in Hamden, had earned his business degree in the spring of 1961, shortly after he had signed up to join the Air Force Reserves. According to Saint Clair, he was ordered to report to Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Tex. a week before he was set to walk at graduation.


  

 "A lot of my friends had joined the 22nd Medical Service Squad, which was up next to the old University of Baltimore gym," Saint Clair recalled. "It was April 21 and I said to the recruiter, 'Our graduation is June 15. If I sign up, when would you call me for active duty?'

He said it would be sometime in July or August. I'm taking final exams in May and I get a letter from Uncle Sam saying, 'You will report to Lakland Air Force Base on June 8.' I went to the recruiters and I told him I couldn't report (until after June 15 graduation). My uncle, a World War II veteran who was in the Invasion of Normandy with the 29th Infantry, took me by the shirt collar and said, 'Bailey, you're 22 years old, they'll put you in the brig and you'll have trouble getting out.'"


   Saint Clair's mother, Mildred Baker, was a nurse who had encouraged him to go to college, went to graduation and picked up her only child's loma. Saint Clair served in the Air Force as a medic in a psychiatric ward and went on with his life, with his college degree but without the memory of graduating.


   It gnawed at him he got older, his 26-year career as a drug rep for Bristol-Myers Squibb over, having survived open-heart surgery. An avid runner, Saint Clair also had right hip replacement and major reconstructive knee surgery.


   A conversation at a restaurant with former UB classmates spurred Saint Clair's decision to walk at graduation.
   "I was at a restaurant last summer, I'm talking to some of the guys that graduated with me and one of them said, 'You know Bailey, is there anything on your list that you'd like to do, like the movie 'The Bucket List'," Bailey said. "I said, there is one thing. At my age I don't want to jump out of an airplane or bungee jump, but I missed graduating off the stage.'  I was an only child and my mother sacrificed like crazy. Without the four-year degree, I could never had the career that I did. "
    Saint Clair said that the graduation ceremony "was more than I was more than I ever thought it would be" and particularly enjoyed mingling with students a half-century younger than him, one in particular. Saint Clair said that while the graduates were lining up for the processional, he struck up a conversation with Matt Sweet, a 25-year-old who went to college with the help of the G.. Bill after serving in the Air Force. On Monday, he received a note from Sweet.
    "He wrote, 'Now that you've got your degree, you should do something with it'," Saint Clair said.    

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region
        

May 17, 2011

Anne Arundel Has Withdrawn Maintenance of Effort Request

Anne Arundel County has withdrawn its request to be exempt from a state educational requirement mandating that funding be maintained per pupil each year, state board of education officials said Monday.

The requirement, known as maintenance of effort, says that school systems must spend as much to educate each student during the upcoming school year as it did the previous year. In March, Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold submitted a waiver request from the requirement, marking the first time the county had done so.

County board of education officials opposed the executive’s move and last week asked the state to dismiss Leopold's request.

Leopold withdrew the request the following day, stating that the county will meet the requirement when it includes a debt service line item in the budget, a move opposed by the school board.

In addition to Anne Arundel, Kent County, Montgomery County, Queen Anne's County, Talbot County and Wicomico County all filed waiver requests from maintenance of effort. All except Wicomico County have withdrawn their requests.

Posted by Joe Burris at 4:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Anne Arundel
        

Updated: Western High denied graduates without acceptances to four-year-colleges a walk across the stage

For as long as anyone can remember, Western High School has had a longstanding practice of preventing students from walking across the stage at graduation if they didn't prove acceptance at a four-year-college or university--even if they didn't want to attend one. 

This little-known fact was brought to light amid recent controversies at the school surrounding senior pranks that had gone too far, prompting Western's Principal Alisha Trusty to cancel two senior events.

The school system said that the practice was not common in the district, and that the city's other flagship, college prep schools--City, Poly, Dunbar--did not have such a rule. School officials said it was a school-level decision, and a longstanding tradition that dated back decades. Trusty will discuss with the Western High community in the coming weeks whether it should continue.

Trusty said she would not be enforcing the rule this year, though we featured a student in a story today who had to scurry for an acceptance letter by May 1 after she was told the one she received from Anne Arundel Community College wasn't good enough for her to walk across the stage.

The student, Gaetana Vitali and her father, Sal, spoke extensively about the experience yesterday. 

"If you work hard for four years, you have that right," Sal Vitali said. "Even if you go to summer school, you still get to walk across the stage. But, not at Western.”

He said he was proud of his daughter's acceptance to AACC to study pre-vet science. He said that for many students, community college is the best option. “Right now, with the state of the economy and the changing standards of colleges, it makes it that much harder.”

Update: Sources have provided me with all of the requirements for students to participate in graduation, which apparently are listed in a handbook given to students at the beginning of the year.  (I looked for this in an online handbook and couldn't find it on Monday night). See below:

Commencement
Eligibility for Participation
In order to participate in the Western High School graduation ceremony, a student must:
• have a minimum 70 cumulative academic average (the cumulative GPA is not rounded; a 69.99 GPA is not acceptable for participation in commencement exercises)
• have a minimum 94% attendance record for each school year
• meet the Maryland State Department of Education graduation requirements
• take a college admittance standardized test, either SAT I or ACT
• apply and show evidence of acceptance to at least one 4-year college or university prior to May 1st of her senior year

Our editorial board weighed in today on Western's policy, which Sal Vitale said he was informed had been around for at least 15 years. 

Posted by Erica Green at 2:06 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

May 16, 2011

Updated: Western High School senior pranks go too far, events canceled

Western High School Principal Alisha Trusty has canceled two highly anticipated events that were scheduled for soon-to-be graduates, after some senior pranks apparently crossed the line.

In a letter to parents on Friday, Trusty announced that the school has canceled Western's Senior Banquet and Senior Farewell. And she detailed some some pretty extreme behavior displayed by students recently to justify the decision.

According to the letter, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Trusty said that after weeks of seniors pulling relatively harmless pranks, the pranks escalated to actions that have harmed the health of the staff members and endangered students and staff and personal property.

The pranks outlined in the letter included, "poisoning our drinking water with medication and substances that are unknown to us," and "coating steps, hallways and doorknobs with slippery and unknown substances." Students reported that bleach and laxatives were placed in water coolers, and baby oil smeared on staircases. Trusty also cited harassment of certain individuals to the point of violating federal law. 

Updated: Students informed The Sun that also among the prank damage was vandalism of staff offices, including the destruction of several computers. The prank damage is estimated to cost in  tens of thousands of dollars. The district said it was still compiling numbers.

Western Student Gaetana Vitale and her father Sal Vitale, who first brought this story to light, said they believed the students involved should be penalized rather than the entire senior class. Updated: Students have apparently been paying dues--up to $500--for senior events since their freshman year.

Updated: “It was wrong, it was stupid, and it was possibly dangerous,” Sal Vitale said of the pranks. "But, they didn’t take action according with the procedures; they did a blanket action against a group of students who would not be coming back. You don’t take it out on everybody.”

The district said Monday, that Trusty had the responsibility to, "hold up the sense of decorum and respect all the way through, and continuously shape and forme the culture of the school.
City schools spokesman, Michael Sarbanes said, that Western had, "a long and proud tradition of school culture that they’re upholding," with the punishments.

Updated: For those who are wondering: On Friday, there was a fight between two students at Polytechnic Institute. Students reported on Twitter that there was a "riot" which the district said was a "large gathering of students" who egged on the fight. The school's principal injured his thumb while breaking up the fight, school officials said. Two other teachers who were reported injured were separate incidents they said.

Add to that, Trusty said, students are generally misbehaving (wandering the halls, refusing to attend class, riding scooters in the halls, and playing ball in the cafeteria) in unacceptable ways. 

Trusty cautioned that graduation and prom were also optional events held by the school.

Some parents believe that the entire senior class should not be punished for the actions of a few, particularly because seniors pay dues for four years that go toward planning the senior events.

The school system said today that it was up to the school to maintain order the way its leaders see fit, and the school needed to set a precedent for what is acceptable behavior for its seniors as they near the end of their high-school careers.

It wasn't that long ago that I graduated high school, and I don't remember "senioritis" this bad.
Posted by Erica Green at 9:30 PM | | Comments (108)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Should dropouts be allowed to attend prom?

According to a report by WBAL-TV 11 last week, Northwestern High School didn't allow a student to bring her best friend to the school's prom because her guest was a Northwestern dropout.  

According to the BAL report, the school's principal, Jason Hartling, informed his student that the school had been looking to bring her friend back to school. In the story, he seemed adamant about the decision to not let her attend the prom until he had proof that she was pursuing an education.

WBAL quoted the current Northwestern Senior as saying: He said, 'Cheryl Smith? Didn't she used to go here?" I said, 'Yes.' He said, 'We've been looking for her to re-enroll her.' I said, 'Well, she's about to start a GED program.' He said, 'Well, we need proof. We need proof that she's starting a GED program or is doing something with her life.'"

On Friday night, WBAL reported that the former student wasn't allowed inside Northwestern's prom. 

This is a tricky one (OK@Ruth, what adjective would you suggest? Debatable?). I'm interested to read what everyone thinks.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:26 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Hairston and school board to be grilled on teacher cuts

A lawmaker suggested in an interview for a story today that Hairston's cuts to teaching positions was a personal swipe at the teachers' union that has so angered him in the past couple of years. Perhaps his judgement is now clouded, he said.

I don't know what Hairston's motivation is or what the school board's thought process is because they haven't been willing to come before the public and explain why they decided to cut teachers before administrative positions. But tomorrow we will find out as Hairston gets a grilling before the County Council to say whether or not he and the board have decided to find money to fund some of the positions. There's lots at stake for kids, teachers, parents and the elected officials have argued. But there's' also a lot at stake for the board and Hairston, who are both likely to come under increasing criticism if they don't make an effort to restore cuts.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

May 13, 2011

Baltimore City College gets permanent leader

Cindy Harcum, who took over managing principal of City College at the beginning of the school year, has been appointed to the post permanently.

The school board approved the recommendation by city schools CEO Andres Alonso on Tuesday.

City's former principal, Tim Dawson, stepped down from his position in August after leading the school for five years. Dawson said his resignation was a "collaborative decision" with schools CEO Andr?s Alonso, though it came amid recent data showing the school's achievement had been declining for at least three years.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

More city schools lose than gain funding next year

Earlier this week, the school board voted to increase base funding to $5,000 per-pupil, however, schools will have less money to spend as they choose due to a rise in "locked funds," such as money designated for rising salary and benefit costs. Student weights for basic and advanced students decreased by $500 in order to raise the base funding. Special education and dropout prevention weights stayed the same.

You can see the latest Powerpoint presentation on the budget here. The actual budget will be released on May 20. The board is scheduled to vote on it May 24.

So, in an effort to see what the budget actually means for schools, and the potential impacts gains and losses may have, I asked school officials  a week ago to provide me with some detailed information about the schools that stand to lose and gain the most money next year. 

(Added Note on Sat., May 14: Under the district's Fair Student Funding model, school budgets are tied to enrollment. However, the school system did not indicate in its response whether these numbers solely reflect shifting enrollment numbers.) Thanks to @Simon for suggesting that context.

I received a response with a summary of the number of schools that noted budget increases and decreases and, on average, by how much. Very good information, and of course very skeletal when the average decrease reported by the school system is $231,302, but schools are reporting losses of $600,000 to $900,000.

So, while I wait for the more detailed information, I thought I'd share what I know. See below.

FY11 to FY12 School Funding
Locked & Unlocked, All Sources
 
Schools with Increase in Funding*                              77
Total Increase in Funding                                          $30,352,978
Average Increase in Funding                                      $394,195
 
Schools with Decrease in Funding                               103
Total Decrease in Funding                                         -$23,824,118
Average Decrease in Funding                                     -$231,302
 
Schools with Funding Increase 10% or Greater          32
Schools with Funding Increase from 5 to 10%           16
Schools with Funding Increase Less than 5%             29
Schools with Funding Decrease Less than 5%            64
Schools with Funding Decrease from 5 to 10%          27
Schools with Funding Decrease 10% or Greater        12

Posted by Erica Green at 1:30 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Students protest Baltimore School for the Arts teacher cuts

Students of the Baltimore School for the Arts protested Friday morning against the elimination of staff members next year. It seems that even one of the most prestigious schools in the city, and most renowned in the country, isn't immune from funding shortfalls that are being felt throughout the district.  The group of students marched to City Hall for the "fair treatment  of teachers," displaying signs of support for their educators.

The BSA released a statement Friday addressing the cuts and the student protest:

"The Baltimore School for the Arts received a reduced budget allocation this year, and, unfortunately, the school had no choice but to eliminate three full-time positions: two teachers (one academic and one arts) and one administrative assistant.

Eliminating positions held by three valued people who contributed so much to their students was a difficult decision, one that saddens all of us. There was no other choice.  At the same time, we are preserving the three courses that were affected by these cuts through funding from the BSA Foundation that will be used to support part-time faculty to teach those classes.  The curriculum at the School remains the same.
 
One of the most beautiful things about BSA is that our students love and respect their teachers‹so this has hit them very hard, and we understand why they and their parents are very upset about the loss of the three positions. We know that we are not the only city school facing these cuts, and that these cuts are extremely difficult for all teachers and students in the schools that have been affected. We will maintain the traditional excellence of  BSA."

Posted by Erica Green at 1:14 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

May 12, 2011

Dulaney and Franklin high schools get new principals

There's a lot of reshuffling of principals and assistant principals going on in Baltimore County. Tuesday night the school board approved the transfer of Dulaney's principal, Patrick S. McCusker, to Franklin and Lansdowne's principal, Lynda Whitlock, to Dulaney.

In the dance of the elementary school principals: Susan Smith is moving from Middlesex to Edgemere; Yasmin Stokes is moving from Powhatan to Edmondson Heights; Cheryl Jones is moving from Riverview to Middlesex; Mary Maddox is moving from Johnnycake To Riverview and David Parker is moving from Edmondson Heights to Powhatan. Stacey Durkovic, the principal at Prettyboy is going to bcome the principal at Carney and Robert Findley, principal at Edgemere, goes to Fifth District.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:10 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

Vote Friday: Baltimore educator vies for Regis and Kelly's top teacher award

Stacey Carver, a special education teacher at Renaissance Academy High school in Baltimore, is one of five finalists vying for the top teacher title, awarded by the "Live! with Regis and Kelly" show.

On Friday, May 13, you can vote online for Carver to win the title of "Top Teacher" and $10,000 for his school's library. Carver's wife wrote a glowing and heartfelt write-up about his love for teaching and work in the city, which you can read by clicking on his picture on the show's website.  He also appeared on the show earlier this week, and you can view his interview with Regis and Kelly. And don't forget to vote.  

Good luck, Mr. Carver.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:35 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Education advocates call for Alonso to address communities on hiring of 15 new executives

Responses are coming in on the story we ran today about Baltimore city schools adding 14 new, $125,000 executive director positions to the central office to evaluate and provide "deeper support to principals." Additionally, city schools CEO Andres Alonso has budgeted to fill the $175,000 position that he created for Brian Morris, who resigned from the post before filling it, in 2009. According to a presentation given at this week's city school board meeting, the deputy CEO's office will have a $231,000 budget (including salary).

We raised questions about the appropriateness of this plan, given that schools are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and teachers, programs and resources are being cut at the school level due to budget constraints. Many parents and city leaders had the same question.

School officials revealed the new positions late Tuesday night to the city school board, and many board members understood the cost of the positions to be absorbed by central office savings that came at the expense of 89 people losing their positions and other scaled back spending.

However, on Wednesday, the school system said they would be "grant-funded" positions, funded by federal Title II dollars designated for professional development. School officials justified the use of the funds, which in the past have been used for new teacher and principal programs, to fund permanent, salaried, positions because the executive directors would be serving similar functions. Note: Two of those positions already exist, filled by Irma Johnson and Roger Shaw, and have been paid for with general funds. 

Still, debate was brewing on area radio shows, and among city leaders and education advocates Thursday, about how these positions could be created just months after thousands braved the rain for hours in Annapolis to protest state lawmakers to fully fund city schools.

Doc Cheatham, who now heads up the National Action Network--Greater Baltimore Chapter, said that he was one of those people, "who was honored to be pulled down in the rain because it was for our children." But, Cheatham said in an interview Thursday, “the timing of this just couldn’t have been at a more challenging time.”

Cheatham wrote Alonso an email today asking him to come forward to the community and explain his position. While the school system may say that the new additions are grant-funded positions, many still question whether its money well spent.

“The fact that we’re letting go of staff, letting go of teachers, and then adding to 15 positions,” it just doesn’t sit well or read well to us," Cheatham said, adding that he will reach out to other education advocacy groups to weigh in on the plan, including the Baltimore Education Coalition, which organized the funding rallies in Annapolis.

Cheatham emphasized that questioning Alonso wasn't a personal attack, but “we did what was asked of us in standing up for the schools, and this is about our children and what’s best for them, and about the dollars that we have being best spent.”

Posted by Erica Green at 3:55 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Governor reverses decision to pull scholarships

Gov. Martin O'Malley read my colleagues' story in the paper yesterday about the state taking away scholarships for 350 high school seniors this week and decided to reverse the decision. The Maryland Distinguished Scholars program aims to keep the highest achieving students in state by offering them a $3,000 a year incentive in the form of a scholarship.  Students received word in the mail that the scholarships were being revoked just days after the May 1 deadline for students to commit to a college.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:54 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Around the Region
        

Local Homeschooled Student a Presidential Scholar

Ellicott City resident Nathan Chai says that being home schooled enabled him to receive the one-on-one attention in subjects that he might not have excelled in had he been in a traditional class setting. He cites homeschooling among the reasons for being named a 2011 U.S. Presidential Scholar, joining an elite group of accomplished students nationwide.

The Presidential Scholars Program was established in 1964 by then President Lyndon Johnson to annually recognize up to 141 graduating high school seniors. It is one the highest national honors for high school students, program officials said.

The scholars are awarded a Presidential medallion at a White House ceremony in June. Said Chai of the honor, “It really motivates me to work harder and really try to get things accomplished. I know I have been recognized in this way. I think it’s really important that now that I have achieved this award that I go out and achieve more things.”

Other local scholars included Eli Okun and Sandra Yan, both of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, and Clara McCreery  of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda.

Chai said that he attended traditional school until the sixth grade, when his mother decided that he should be home schooled. “She had some unpleasant experiences in middle school, I suppose,” said Chai. “It worked well and we decided to keep it up through high school.”

But there were times when the experience was difficult, Chai says. In an essay he wrote for the Presidential Scholars program, he spoke about being homeschooled last year while his grandmother moved in with his family during the latter stages of her battle with cancer.


“That was really, really tough for me because obviously I do all my schooling at home and when you have someone who’s living with you who has cancer and you know you have to take care of them and watch them and all the stress that comes with it kind of like comes crashing down around all of your academics and your school life,” said Chai, who added that his grandmother passed away last year.“One of the questions [on the Presidential Scholarship application] was to write about a difficult time in your life. I guess I was pretty honest about that.”

But overall, he says, being homeschooled was a rewarding experience. “I have to give credit to my mom on that one,” he said. “I took a lot of AP courses a lot earlier than I would have been able to in public school, and my mom was really able to give me the whole one-on-one thing for the entire school year. I think that was a definitely a huge, huge advantage. If I was trying to learn that stuff on my own it probably would not have gone over so well to be perfectly honest.”

Chai said he plans to enroll at the University of Maryland, College Park in the fall and double major in biochemistry and political science, with hopes of someday specializing in academic medicine or health policy.

Posted by Joe Burris at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Howard County
        

May 11, 2011

Pasadena Catholic School to Receive STEM Grant

St. Jane Frances School in Pasadena, one of seven schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to recently be designated a STEM school, has received a $53,000 state grant to develop a state-of-the-art classroom that will include laptops, wireless printers and tablet PCs, archdiocese officials said.

The school will house a so-called “ideal classroom” for STEM (programs that center on science, technology, engineering and math) as part of a Maryland STEM Portfolio Project initiative.

The classroom is expected to be shared by students of all grades, said principal Michelle Jones in a prepared statement. The technology is expected to be used across curricula at the school, officials said.

In January, St. Frances was designated as a STEM school by the archdiocese for its STEM programs in third through eighth grade. The school's sixth grade is building roller coasters that demonstrate speed and velocity using recyclable material.

Posted by Joe Burris at 3:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Anne Arundel
        

May 10, 2011

A little humor from the Onion

InsideEd shouldn't be serious all the time. So here's a humorous story from the Onion about what might happen if schools were better funded.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:15 PM | | Comments (0)
        

City parent: 'Why I don't want a charter in my backyard'

I came across a parent's blog post, that was featured on the Baltimore Brew a few days ago that I thought was worth sharing.

The Hampden resident wrote a lengthy and pretty scathing piece called "Why I don't want a charter school in my backyard, (Not Just Yet. Not so fast)" which explains why she opposed Roots and Branches School, a new city charter due to open next year, moving just a few blocks away Hampden Elementary/Middle School. Even though the parent doesn't even have a student in school yet, she took the issue all the way up to the city council.

For many charters, the approval to operate in the district can be dream, but finding a space to do so can be a nightmare. In its quest for space, Roots and Branches was considering moving into a building in the neighborhood. Jen Shaud, whom I first interviewed when she was looking to open the school, called the parent's piece "unfortunate, because we just wanted to be a part of a nice community."

Ultimately, the Hampden building didn't work out and the city school board is scheduled to approve a new facility tonight for the school.

The parent echoes a growing sentiment in the district (whether we'd like to admit it or not) when it comes to charters: she questions the motives of the movement and its representation of "choice," and expresses some mild disdain for the dynamic they bring to the district.

I'm not sharing this blog to start a back and forth or pit any school against another. However, city schools CEO Andres Alonso has repeatedly said that charters were brought into the district to empower parents, and that they'd be around as long as parents wanted them here. And, here's at least one that will take a pass.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:13 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Charter Schools
        

May 9, 2011

Should lacrosse players have been suspended?

The debate over zero tolerance policies has been raging across Maryland for several years now. Some argue that to keep discipline and order in schools the rules have to be strictly enforced and punishments need to send a message.

On the other side are parents and other school officials who say that keeping students out of school does no good at all, and in fact may just leave students who already had discipline issues more behind in their school work and more likely to act out again.

In the story now on the web, I write about two lacrosse players who were suspended for having tools they used to fix lacrosse sticks: a lighter and a pen knife. Should the state board step in and try to set limits on zero tolerance policies in school districts or should each district be allowed to discipline students in a way that it sees fit?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:36 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Around the Region
        

May 7, 2011

AACC Professor Earns Kudos on Ratings Site

Plenty of people check out the Web rating site RateMyProfessors.com, including professors. Just ask Lawrie Gardner, a CPA and associate professor of accounting at Anne Arundel Community College.

She logged onto the site early on in her career to see what her students were saying about her, and then she looked up the names of other college professors to see what was being said about them.  She said she wanted to find out whether anyone left a comment that she could use to improve her teaching style.

It appears Gardner is doing quite well, as RateMyProfessors.com recently listed her on the site’s ranking of the nation's top colleges and professors based on student entries.


Gardner ranked 21st among the nation’s top 25 junior college professors, and those who submitted entries on the site called her an awesome teacher and added that those who commit themselves in her classes succeed. They said she makes accounting concepts easy to understand.

Margaret Bolton, a biology professor from the College of Southern Maryland, ranked 18th among junior college professors on the site, and Towson University languages professor Lea Ramsdell ranked 22nd among the top 25 university professors.


“I actually find the website very interesting because it is indicative of the way that people in general communicate in this day and age,” said Gardner.  “We Facebook, Twitter and text, so a website for students to go to and comment about a good or bad experience they have had with a college professor is just an extension of that.”


Gardner said that she wonders about the accuracy of the website, which says it's owned and operated by MTV’s college network, mtvU, and reaches 3 million students each month.
Yet Gardner added that she’s spoken to students about RateMyProfessors.com and they say they use the site in choosing their classes to avoid getting a teacher that some students have had problems with.


“Someone said [to her] that they overheard a conversation with some students and the student was complaining about a professor and the other student replied, ‘Hey, it’s your fault. You should have used RateMyProfessors.com,'” said Gardner. “So whether or not the site is accurate, students believe that it is and they use it all the time.”


And that said, Gardner said she felt “honored” to be considered among the top-ranked professors according to the site.


“I love what I do and without students in my classes I would not be able to do my job,” Gardner said. “I try to give my students every opportunity to be successful.  I encourage them to push themselves, but also give them tools to do so.


“My greatest reward for teaching is that if I am able to encourage at least one or two or perhaps three students per class per semester to pursue my chosen field of accounting and to get the rest of the class excited about the topic, I have done what I wanted.”

Posted by Joe Burris at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Anne Arundel
        

May 6, 2011

Reservoir High Student Wins National Award

Kamal Browne was 7 years old when he picked up a camera for the first time, and back then the now-17-year-old from Laurel didn’t get a snapshot of how taking pictures would become a passion.

But a photography course last year at Reservoir High School helped the junior develop a knack for photography and earlier this week his efforts paid off as he was named the 7th Congressional District’s winner of An Artistic Discovery, an national art competition for high school students sponsored by the U.S. Congress.

Browne won with a photo collage titled, “Growth,” which depicts human movement. The work will be on display in the U.S. Capitol and Browne will compete for national honors this summer with other winning artists from congressional districts.

“It’s a great honor, and it helps me get recognition by putting me out more,” said Browne, who hopes of becoming a photojournalist.  “I started really getting serious about [photography] last year when I took a photo class.”

He said that last year he knew he was onto something with photography when his teachers were so impressed with his work they had it displayed alongside other students’ work in an exhibit at Columbia Mall. “Then I really took to it,” he said.

Reservoir High School principal Adrianne Kaufman said that the junior should improve his craft more when he enrolls in an advanced placement photography class next school year. “He’s a humble student,” said Kaufman of Browne, “and in his own mind he never thought he would win. It’s always nice with a student that humble receives such an incredible honor.”

An earlier version of this post gave an incorrect name for Reservoir High School. The Sun regrets the error,

Posted by Joe Burris at 5:44 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Howard County
        

May 5, 2011

Fight near Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle goes viral

Before clicking on video, please be aware that it is graphic.

An altercation that took place across the street from Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School went viral on YouTube this week.

Baltimore city school officials said they were aware of the video, and that two Francis Scott Key students were allegedly involved in the fight. They said it appears the fight was an isolated incident, and that they were not aware of any prevalent issues involving student disturbances in the Locust Point neighborhood.

“We are not aware of any ongoing problems involving our students in the community," said city schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster. "However, if there are any concerns, we welcome discussions with the community—we want to be good partners.”

Posted by Erica Green at 6:53 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Why Baltimore's budget will be released in the final hour

Many of our readers have inquired about why the city schools budget is so late this year, and having only covered the tail-end of the budget season last April, I was wondering the same thing. 

Every district we cover has presented their entire budgets, and have been vetting them publically for months. Some numbers changed along the way as a result of shifting funds and priorities, but people were debating real numbers and scenarios nontheless.

The school system has held a few evening public forums on the budget in the last few months that were not well-attended by the public. In some daytime school board worksessions I attended with primarily city staff and some advocacy groups, Powerpoint presentations were available, but presented as tentative plans. 

Another public worksession is scheduled for Saturday from 10-11:30 a.m. You can find the most up-to-date Powerpoint presentation here.

According to the school system's timeline, the budget was due to be presented to the school board on Tuesday. From my experience covering budgets, I was preparing to up my coffee intake, and comb through hundreds of pages looking for year-to-year comparisons on critical line items. I thought I'd maybe even swing a meeting with the school officials to discuss the meaning behind the numbers.

However, I learned that the same Powerpoint will be presented next week, and school board members will be voting on student weights--definitely critical because it determines how much per-pupil funding schools will receive. However, schools have been working with their projected funding for the last month, with enough knowledge to know what they will and will not be able to afford.

The actual budget booklet will be made public in its entirety on Friday, May 20. The board is scheduled to adopt the full budget on May 24 (though it was originally scheduled for March 31). It also has to be approved by the Baltimore City Council. The fiscal year starts July 1.

Maybe it's because I'm new to the game, but I was quite surprised by this process. Budgets are often perceived as boring and dry, but are a wealth of information. I've found that going through a well-constructed, transparent budget booklet not only tells you what's funded in the upcoming year, but more importantly what is not. 

I asked the district why the entire budget is being released so late this year (about a month later than last year, but still just days before it's passed), and posted the answers I received below.

Basically, they say that Baltimore is unique because a large part of its budget relies on other funding sources. (Not to mention that the ink isn't dry on some union contracts, and cost-saving measures are still in the works.)

Continue on to read the response from the district.

From Baltimore city school officials:  

The reason for the delay in our budget this year is simple:
a. First,  we receive a far greater percentage of our revenues from the state than any other district in the state (our percentage of our revenues coming from the state is roughly 75 percent).  So the uncertainty about the revenues coming from the state this year, with scenarios that kept changing until the last minute, meant that we had to hold on the formal budget presented to the board until we knew our revenues. Other districts can rely on local revenues to make up state shortfalls, since the local revenues are the largest percentage of the budget. We cannot, with a sizable shortfall that was very dependent on decisions at the state level that were not clarified until April.   Last year, the state revenue situation was settled early in the legislative process, so we could move the budget approval process earlier. If you look at earlier years, the budget was approved in late May or even in June, which is the case this year.


b. Second, unlike other districts, our dollars follow the student and are concentrated at the school level, where schools actually shape the budgets that aggregate to the district budget. So it is incredibly important to get the dollars to the schools right.  The real debate for us in terms of our budget is what happens around the school dollars (the weights, and questions about locked positions, about assumptions about small schools, etc.). All those policy and practical points have been publicly debated several times, and we have concentrated on that discussion because it is what impacts our schools.


c. Third, unlike other districts, we have been aggressively rethinking the role of central in order to safeguard schools as much as possible. In the absence of clarity about state dollars, what was possible in terms of the central reorganization also had to wait.


d. Finally, reflecting these considerations, early in the process we proposed for the board a two step process for approval that was different from other years, with weights and school budgets approved first, and the central component approved second.  The board agreed to that process and the public was informed in several board sessions and working forums.  That is the timeline we have followed, with the school budget components being approved on May 10th, and the central components on May 24th  (which is actually a move from May 31st in our timeline).

Posted by Erica Green at 5:17 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

State awards school construction funding that some districts can't afford

Our Annapolis reporter Julie Bykowicz reported in a story today that the state Board of Public Works approved $264 million for school construction to districts on Wednesday, and in an unprescedented development, two counties--Charles and Wicomico--turned down funding and two new buildings because they couldn't make a local match.

According to the story, the state's 23 counties and Baltimore asked for $612 million in state help for building schools — down from a peak of $894 million in fiscal year 2008.  Our politics blog delves into why school districts are seeking less capital funding this year.

Of note: Baltimore and Baltimore County received $32 million each for the fiscal year that begins July 1. In Baltimore, a chunk of the money will be used to complete Waverly Elementary/Middle School — the first new school to be built in the city since 1998. Baltimore County will spend much of the money on a major expansion of Hampton Elementary School. Howard County is to receive $23.4 million and Anne Arundel $29.2 million.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region
        

May 4, 2011

How long can the city school system avoid the "L" word?

We wrote a story today about the reorganization of Baltimore city schools' central office, during which 89 employees were notified that their positions would be eliminated, and they would be placed in a pool to vie for roughly 160 open positions--if they're qualified and have a satisfactory evaluation. 

The new reorganization also increases the number of full-time employees in school support "networks" from 50 to 169. This will undoubtedly be appreciated by schools who will have to make some tough staffing calls.

The school system did not indicate which departments were affected in the reorganization, saying that the new chart would be unveiled on Tuesday at the city school board meeting. Note that in the past, reorganizations have sought to decentralize and shrink administration. The school system revealed at the final hour yesterday that that central staff has grown by at least 9 in the last year.

In my attempt to dissect this reorganization, I'm noticing an interesting trend: no matter how obvious the equation is, the school system will not utter the "L" word.

In the case of the reorganization, I specifically asked if there were/would be be layoffs, and was told, "we have identified 89 employees whose current positions will not exist in the new organization and are being asked to identify other positions either inside or outside the organization."

Am I missing something?

When a person is ultimately left unemployed because their position has been eliminated--it's a layoff.

We'll see how this evasion holds up if the school system grants my request to identify schools that lost the most money this year, and we hopefully get answers about how many teachers and school staff are left without jobs. We were already told that there will be a decrease in teaching positions.

And, presumably, when there are more people than positions--unless,there is another multi-million dollar surplus of teachers carried this year--it results in.....??

As I start my first budget season with the school system, I feel fortunate that decoding its responses for the past year has become a bit of a hobby.

But, since the budget will be released relatively late this year--being presented and passed in the same month-- I hope the city takes a cue from other districts in the nation that are facing the same tough decisions when it comes to the cost of personnel.

It's evident that Baltimore is in the same boat as other school districts that are trying to do more with less, and unfortunately that will result in a loss of jobs.  The only difference is that those other districts are calling it how it is.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:03 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

City schools union leaders go tit for tat on administrators contract

Last week, city administrators voted to approve a new union contract much like the landmark pact signed by the Baltimore Teachers Union last fall.

The Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association ratified its contract after 150 of its 600 members voted to approve the deal, which includes a 2 percent retroactive pay raise and $1,800 stipend. The deal eliminates annual step increases — raises based on seniority and academic degrees — and implements a new career ladder. It also offers an incentive of $5,000 to $10,000 to administrators who choose to work in the neediest schools.

All members represented by the union would be placed on new career pathways, which have multiple pay intervals.Principals will be able to acquire "leadership units," based on professional development and leadership endeavors, for movement through the pathways. The top of the pay scale for distinguished principals is about $160,000.

Several panels, including a Joint Oversight Panel, will oversee the implementation of the contract, The details on how to climb the career ladder, etc., is said to be due by "early 2012." It costs the district about $7 million, $400,000 more than the previous three-year-contract.

The new contract is starkly familiar--it's essentially the BTU contract tailored to principals and administrators--and the fact that it passed without as much drama as the BTU negotiating team had to endure didn't go unnoticed.

There were some serious digs flying when I called BTU president Marietta English for comment on the principals contract. As I read the highlights of the contract, English half-joked that the administrators union should pay the BTU for negotiating its contract.

"They didn't have anything they wanted to do differently? Anything they wanted to do better?" she asked, adding that it was compliment that administrators "wanted to emulate us."

Jimmy Gittings, president of PSASA, didn't deny that he used the BTU contract as a template saying it was a "a damn good contract." But, he said that the only difference was that "the negotiation team would not sacrifice any of its members in the central office for the financial gain of other members."(I'm figuring out what exactly that means)

Gittings later said of English's comments: "It is very important that everyone understands that not only myself, but everyone in the administrators union have the highest respect for teachers of the Baltimore city school system, and everything that they're doing.”

So, for those who asked today whether the comments in the story from English and Gittings were aimed at each another, the answer is yes. But, that happens.

At the end of the day, both seemed to appreciate that under the new contracts they are playing in the same game, by the same rules--even if they have a responsibility to sometimes play on different teams.
Posted by Erica Green at 10:55 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Our National Teacher of the Year and other great teachers

National Teacher of the YearFor only the second time, a Maryland teacher has been named the National Teacher of the Year. Michelle Shearer, a chemistry teacher, at Urbana High School in Frederick County was honored yesterday by President Obama at a ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House.

The photograph here is on the Frederick County school system website. We would like to hear from Shearer's students, who I believe may have taken the Advanced Placement chemistry exam a couple days ago. Give us some examples of why you like your teacher or why she has inspired you to do your best.

And since this is Teacher Appreciation Week, I would encourage any other students in the region  to weigh in with stories of great teachers who have changed their lives. Please take the time to post a comment here. It is nearly the end of the year, a good time, particularly for graduating seniors, to look back and give a shout out to some of their best teachers.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:43 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

May 3, 2011

Western High student appears to have been let down

Today, my colleague, Erica Green, writes about a Western student who appears to be one of the girls let down by the guidance department. Materials the school should have sent to the colleges she was applying to never got there. The result is that this class salutatorian was denied the opportunity to compete with other high achieving students around the nation for spots at some of the best colleges in the nation. 
Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:22 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

May 2, 2011

Forget air-conditioning, can we just turn off the heat?

I received an email about climate control at Parkville High School the other day. The custodian of the building wrote a letter to staff on one of the warmer days this spring trying to explain why it was that heat was coming out of some of the units. The custodian said that he must fire up at least one boiler every day so that the school will have hot water for the kitchen. The custodian told the staff that the heating system wasn't always connected to the water heater, but ever since the water heater went up a couple years ago, they are stuck with current problem. So until school is out, a little bit of heat will be coming into classrooms, which of course, aren't air-conditioned.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region
        

May 1, 2011

Frederick County teacher named nation's best

Michelle M. Shearer, a chemistry teacher from Frederick County, has been named the National Teacher of the Year. For her dedication, the Urbana High School teacher will be honored Tuesday by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony.

According to our story today, Shearer said: "It's an incredible honor. It's overwhelming," but added that "teachers don't go into teaching for awards, but it is nice have recognition. It keeps us going."

She is the second Maryland teacher in the past five years to be awarded the nationwide honor given by the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Shearer was named the Maryland winner last October and became a finalist in January, competing against teachers from Florida, Illinois, and Montana.
Posted by Erica Green at 11:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Nation
        
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