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August 31, 2011

Grand Prix will cause six schools to open late on Thursday, Friday

In the wake of two natural disasters in one week that caused damages and power outages at dozens of city schools, and the first-ever delay to the start of the school year--as far as anyone can recall--six Baltimore city schools will have to make way for another whirl of inconvenience.

The city will open all but nine schools on Thursday due to continuing power outages, but other schools will be impacted by the Grand Prix event this weekend.

Six Baltimore city schools will open one-hour late on Thursday, Sept.1 and Friday, Sept. 2, according to the city schools website, to allow extra travel time for parents and students who live or attend school in the downtown area.

The affected schools are:

• Digital Harbor High School #416
• Federal Hill Preparatory School #45
• Francis Scott Key Elementary/Middle School #76
• George Washington Elementary School #22
• Sharp-Leadenhall Elementary School #314
• Thomas Johnson Elementary /Middle School #84 

For those who will have to make your way to and fro downtown this week, our transportation reporter Michael Dresser has provided some guidance on "How to avoid the looming traffic mess." 

Posted by Erica Green at 1:51 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 29, 2011

Area school systems close--again--before they ever open

The start of the new school year was delayed a second day for students in Baltimore City, and those in Baltimore and Harford counties, as the districts continued to grapple with power outages and other weather-related issues at dozens of their school facilities on Monday. All of the systems, due to welcome students back from summer vacation on Monday, announced they will remain closed on Tuesday.

Anne Arundel County, whose opening day was rocked by an earthquake last week, also cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday.

Howard and Carroll counties will open schools Tuesday, with a few exceptions. 

In Baltimore city, 30 school buildings comprising 42 schools were without power late Monday afternoon, down from more than 60 on Monday, according to Keith Scroggins, chief operating officer for city schools.

The school system, was “extremely fortunate,” with the hurricane, Scroggins said, having equipped schools that historically have flooding with sandbags and minor roof repairs before the storm hit.

School officials completed 43 facility projects over the summer in preparation for welcoming students back this week, Scroggins said.

“We are very excited about starting the school year,” Scroggins said. “The only issue that’s affecting us is power.”

In Baltimore County, about 43 schools remained without power Monday, down from 65 on Sunday, school officials said. 

Howard and Carroll County public schools will open Tuesday, with a few exceptions.


In Carroll County, all schools will open on time Tuesday, with the exception of Hampstead Elementary School and Century High School due to power outages at the two schools. However, staff at both schools will report to the school on time, the school system said Monday.


In a letter to parents Monday afternoon, Harford Superintendent Stephen H. Guthrie wrote that, “overall, our facilities seem to have come through the hurricane in good shape,” but said the system’s facilities experienced some leaks and debris.


In Howard County, superintendent Sydney Cousin decided to open all but one dozen schools that were without power as of 4 p.m. Howard County school officials said that athletic practices will be held at all high schools tomorrow, even if the school is closed due to power outage.


Crews continued working to clean debris from play fields and playgrounds by the end of the day Monday, and water damage found in nearly half the system’s 73 schools.

The Howard County schools that were slated to be closed on Tuesday are: Atholton High School,  Clemens Crossing Elementary School, Dayton Oaks Elementary School, Dunloggin Middle School, Folly Quarter Middle School, Glenelg High School, Marriott’s Ridge High School, Mount View Middle School, Northfield Elementary School, St. Johns Lane Elementary School, Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School and West Friendship Elementary School.

Cousin said his decision to open schools was based on the progress of clean-up efforts taking place in the county.


“It can be difficult for parents to understand why we can’t open schools when they look around their neighborhoods and see little or no significant storm damage,” Cousin said in a release from the school system.

“There were parts of the county that were hit harder than other areas.  We had a lot of cleanup work to do.   In the end, it all comes down to student safety.  That’s always priority number one.”

Posted by Erica Green at 6:28 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region
        

City sees increased need for school uniforms, community help sought

With the school year right around the corner hundreds of Baltimore city students are still in need of school uniforms, city school officials say, and the list is still growing. This time last year, city school officials said they had around  50 and 75 students on its uniform voucher list, but since August 1st the system received more than 575 requests.

Johns Hopkins University helped the school system provide school uniforms to about 170 city students, but many more won't be able to don their school colors on the first day. All of the students come from families who are experiencing some sort of financial hardship due to loss of job or other situation that has strained the family financially, the school system said.

To help, you can follow this link the Baltimore Community Foundation, where you can help a student dress for success this school year.

Posted by Erica Green at 2:57 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Rescheduled: Million Father March in Baltimore

A previous blog post about the Million Father March incorrectly stated that the march was rescheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 30. It was rescheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6. The Sun regrets this error.

Baltimore city community leaders are encouraging men from across the city to walk their children to school this week, part of a national effort called the "Million Father March" that seeks to shed light on how a short walk to a school building can leave a lasting impression on a child's life and educational journey.

The march will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 6, rescheduled from what was supposed to be the first day of school on August 29, which was cancelled due to power outages and the aftermath Hurricane Irene. Fathers, uncles, brothers and male role models are encouraged to participate--even if they don't have a student in city schools. Organizers only caution that those participating not enter school buildings unless they are a student's parent or guardian.

The Baltimore march, the event happens in 750 cities in the US, was organized by the local chapter of the National Action Network.

“When we look at the fact that the dropout and crime rate is very high, with so much being perpetrated by young adults and youth, men need to send a real strong message that we are very much concerned about their well-being," Cheatham said. "We’re going to stop talking the talk, and walking the walk.”

Prominent male leaders--including Baltimore City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young, and city schools CEO Andres Alonso--endorsed the effort in a press conference hosted by Young at City Hall. More than 100 professional, black men in the city have adopted a school.


Alonso said, "attendance matters tremendously, and getting everyone, including fathers, to model the importance of being school every day, from the first day, is an important step in getting our schools and kids the support they need."

I covered this event in Chicago two years ago, and it was quite a sight to see it unfold on the first day.

Posted by Erica Green at 2:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 28, 2011

Dundalk High School has a turnaround

Turnaround success stories are few and far between, but what has happened at Dundalk is clearly a turnaround. In interviews over the course of the past six months, the teachers and staff told a story of work that has been both exhausting and exhilirating.  My reporting for this story reminded me once again that what happens in good schools really always comes down to great teaching and the relationships between students and teachers.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:21 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Around the Region
        

August 24, 2011

Baltimore County school board tries for better community relations

Lawrence Schmidt, school board president, is responding to criticism that the board has insulated itself from the public by making two changes.

First, the board will travel around the county to hold its meetings. The next meeting, on September 6, will be at Eastern Technical High School and the following meeting will move to New Town High School.

The board also will be changing its policy to allow public comment at the beginning of every meeting rather than the end of every other meeting. Schmidt said this will give the public a chance to comment on a policy before the votes, rather than after. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

School systems assessing earthquake damage

For students in Anne Arundel County, the school year got off to a shaky start--literally--when an earthquake shook the region late afternoon Tuesday. The county opened schools on Tuesday--the first of the local jurisdictions--but classes were disrupted at 1:51 p.m. when the earthquake send trembles through the East Coast.

The remainder of the local systems are assessing what damage, if any, occured in their school buildings as they prepare to open schools next week. At least one Harford County high school reported a gas leak, and 23 schools in Baltimore County found light to moderate damage, such as cracks in exterior walls and displaced ceiling tiles. A Pasadena high school reported roof and other damage.

In Baltimore city, which has the oldest and most dilapidated school buildings in the state, 11 schools were identified by engineers Tuesday to have noted minor damage, particularly cracks in bricks, ceilings and stairwells, school officials said. The damages are not expected to impact city schools opening on Monday, Aug. 29.

School officials said that nothing appears to be structural or serious, but a second review of buildings was scheduled for Wednesday.

In our coverage of the earthquake today, building inspectors advise caution in the wake of the quake.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region
        

School system may cap enrollment at West Towson

At last night's Baltimore County school board meeting, administrators said that if more students continue to enroll at West Towson this fall, they may cap the enrollment. Such an action would mean that families who move into the area zoned for West Towson would not be allowed to go there, but would be sent to another school. West Towson, which opened last year primarily to relieve crowding at Rodgers Forge Elementary, is apparently now the hot school to go to. So this action, if taken, could really frustrate parents. Of course, West Towson was the school that parents fought two years ago to keep their students out of because they wanted them at the familiar Rodgers Forge.

In any event, West Towson now has 50 students more than it was built to handle, and perhaps more in the coming days will show up to register. But for safety reasons, the school cannot add trailers in the back. There's very little space on the site.

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

August 23, 2011

City not alone in need for adequate school facilities

While the Baltimore city school system has garnered a great deal of attention for its aging infastructure in the last year, a story by my colleague Liz Bowie this week finds that the strain of school facilities is being felt in systems throughout the state.

The story found that the need across Maryland is so great that state officials are beginning to investigate alternative financing arrangements that would give local governments large infusions of capital to build and renovate schools in a short period.

Baltimore County estimates it would have to spend $2.2 billion to modernize its school buildings, according to the most recent estimates, and that doesn't include the cost of any new schools. In the city, the need has been tallied at $2.8 billion, a statistic that civil rights activists have used to decry what they call deplorable conditions. Anne Arundel County has identified $1.9 billion in needed updates to school infrastructure and Howard County has a list of $500 million in projects.

 

Posted by Erica Green at 9:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region
        

August 22, 2011

Steven Brill's new book on school reform: is the problem teachers unions?

Steven Brill's new book, "Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools" has gotten a lot of buzz in the past week. He's already shown up on CNN, the New York Times and NPR. Brill, a lawyer and founder of American Lawyer magazine, may be best known in education circles for his piece in the New Yorker on New York's rubber room.

From reviews of the book and interviews with Brill, the book appears to be a bit like a rerun of Waiting for Superman, in that it blames poor schools on the power of teachers unions. Although perhaps more nuanced than Superiman, his point is that performance doesn't count for the nation's 3.2 million public school teachers. In other words, you can walk into a classroom as a beginning teacher today and know that no matter how well you do your job over the next year or next two decades, you won't be paid anything more than the mediocre or even lousy teacher in the classroom next door. 

Many people will find fault with his thesis, however, it is likely to be a good read and also a book that will get a lot of attention in the coming weeks.

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:36 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

August 19, 2011

State reopens search for city school board member

The Maryland State Department of Education has reopened a search for a new member to serve on the Baltimore city school board, seeking candidates who have a background in business. The board member would replace current member and local economist Anirban Basu, whose terms expires this year.

According to the listing, the department is looking for a candidate to"possess a high level of knowledge and expertise concerning the successful administration of a large business, non-profit, or governmental entity and have served in a high level management position within such an entity..."

The full posting for the position and how to apply for it is listed here.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 18, 2011

Education advocates launch school facilities campaign

This post was updated on Friday, August 19. 

Baltimore’s education advocates launched a campaign Thursday that seeks to galvanize the entire city around the the issue of its dilapidated school facilities.

The campaign, called “Transform Baltimore,” is being sponsored by the ACLU of Maryland and members of the Baltimore Education Coalition, who said that while lawmakers continue to devise a viable plan to meet the city’s $2.8 billion need for renovations and upgrades, the city needed a platform for action.

The campaign will be driven by a new website, www.TransformBaltimore.org, which went live on Thursday at a kick-off event at Booker T. Washington Middle School. The school’s new, state-of-the-art media center served as the backdrop for advocacy groups and educators to illustrate the learning environment that all city students deserve.

“As our students walk into a building that is clean and new, our expectations are elevated,” said Euna McGruder, principal of Booker T., which will become an arts school next year. McGruder said that the historic city school still serves as a pillar of the community due to its rich history, but “we believe that facilities must be able to support our students in the 21st century.”

The website will serve as a platform for dialogue and organization, ACLU officials said. The first major effort under the campaign will be to organize parents at the 50 upcoming back-to-school nights in September.

The site outlines the campaign’s goals, which are based on the premise that the city and state could tackle the city’s facilities problems with current revenue streams. The website identifies three goals: leverage current dollars, increase the city’s funding support, and increase the state’s funding support. The goals are based on accomplishments in other states, including Georgia and Florida.

The issue of the city-owned school facilities—70 percent of which are in poor and hazardous conditions—has become a hot-button issue in the past year, since the ACLU released a report that outlined the multi-billion-dollar need. The findings were underscored by the increase in school closures in the past year. City school officials were forced to close 45 schools for a total of 34 1/2 days – five in June alone for unbearable heat — for infrastructure issues.

Those in the education community have pushed the issue to the forefront of this year’s mayoral election, and candidates have sounded off on the issues in the media and debates. On August 25, the Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development will engage candidates in a discussion about school facilities, which the organization of clergy members have identified as their foremost campaign issue this year.

In response to the report released by the ACLU last year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake charged a task force with finding revenue streams to support the repairs, renovations or rebuilding of school facilities. The task force report, due out in February, has yet to be released.

Despite lawmakers’ lip service and impending efforts, “it’s not enough, and not fast enough for the teachers and students who will come back to decrepit buildings in two weeks,” said Bebe Verdery, director of ACLU of Maryland's Education Reform Project.

Verdery said that the campaign is not just about action “between now and the mayoral election. This is about—until we can get it done.”

Part of the campaign's mission is to continue bringing attention to the abysmal conditions that city students and educators have to endure every day. On the site, the ACLU and organizations of the BEC have posted documents, maps and videos that illustrate the infrastructure needs in city schools. The campaign will focus on the impact the facilities issue has on not only learning environments, but communities.

Lisa Boyce of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., another partner of the new Transform Baltimore project, said that neglecting to update school facilities is "poor long-term planning" for the city. She said that "if schools in our neighborhood are not a magnet, people leave the city."

"We don't need another reason for parents to leave our schools--or worse--never give them a chance," Boyce said.

On hand Thursday were students and teachers who offered testimony about the conditions in schools. “The conditions of the facilities sends a strong message to me about what our government leaders think about our education,” said Morgan Turner-Cohen, a student at the Baltimore Freedom Academy.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke attended the event Thursday, and said she supported the campaign’s effort to put more pressure on her and her colleagues.

Clarke, who heads the council’s education committee, said that the school system’s current administration has brought more integrity to the process of improving school facilities than in years past, and deserves support in their efforts to improve the city-owned school buildings.

In the past four years, the school system has spent more money on school facility improvements than in the previous two decades, and the first brand new school facility will be built in the city since 1998.

Clarke said the school system's current operations administration has been able to provide the council with the guidance it needs to seek the power to designate tax payer funding to school facilities in a referendum next fall.

A similar bill was proposed by City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young in May, but the bill's initial attempt to allow the council to earmark funding from the city budget failed.

The amended bill did however produce a referendum, which will appear on the city's November ballot, to allow the council to set up a fund for school facilities with grants and donations. It's an unprescedented measure, though limited, that's been lauded as a first step in a long journey to finding a solution that will tackle the problem in the next decade.

Clarke said that she looks forward to working with a $1.4 million review that's underway in the school system to itemize the needs of every school facility in the city.

“We have deferred for generations and we have reached a crisis point,” Clarke said. "We have a shopping list, which a great accomplishment. Let's go shopping."

Posted by Erica Green at 5:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 17, 2011

Alonso addresses 'State of Schools'

Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso delivered his annual 'State of the Schools' address Tuesday, sending a message that despite the district's recent setbacks--including across-the-board test score declines and more schools fabricating their gains under his tenure--city educators should be proud of where the system stands as it prepares to open its doors to students in two weeks.

Alonso, who signed another four-year-contract amid the system's backslide, told hundreds of principals Tuesday that he was their "brother in arms, in what I believe is the most important battle facing our city today." He said that educators should continue to focus on the progress they've made over time, which he acknowledged began before he arrived in the district in 2007.

He then went through a 74-page powerpoint presentation outlining the city's academic and climate data, which noted an increase of suspensions, and slight upticks in attendance rates and the number of diplomas awarded; the system noted decreases in the number of habitually truant students.

As the system prepares for a very critical year, what do you think is the 'state of city schools?'

Posted by Erica Green at 6:23 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Urban superintendents want review of teacher-prep programs

The national network schools has endorsed a review of the nation's teaching programs, a feat that has been taken up by the National Council on Teacher Quality this year. The Council of Great City Schools represents more than 60 superintendents from large, urban cities, including Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso.

The Council on Teacher Quality, which supported Baltimore's new teacher's union contract last fall, will review the nation's teacher preparation programs, but has met opposition from the higher education community. The results are due to be released in conjunction with U.S. News & World Report in late 2012. 

Last month, NCTQ released a report which ranked a random sample of three institutions in each state, including Maryland. Mount St. Mary's University and Salisbury University received "weak" ratings and University of Maryland, Baltimore County a rating of "good." Mount St. Mary's and Salisbury disputed the report, which you can read more about in a story here.

The council spent two years working on the study, which looks at the student teaching experience at 134 institutions of higher education. The rating was based on factors that include whether the teachers who train the college students in their classrooms during student teaching are good teachers themselves, whether the teachers are selected in part by the school of education rather than a school's principal, and whether there is mentoring during the internship.  

In its endorsement, the Council of Great City Schools likened the review to the same scrutiny that urban districts experience.

“Our governing body remains concerned that too many Colleges of Education are graduating students who are poorly prepared academically and not ready to provide quality instruction in our urban classrooms," said Mike Casserly, executive director of the council.

"We are frequently the subject of research, analysis, and study by a wide range of groups and organizations, and are puzzled by the opposition from the higher education community to the examination..."

Kate Walsh, president of NCTQ, said the endorsement validated the need for higher education institutions to learn the strengths and weaknesses in their programs.

"For years, district superintendents, particularly those leading districts that serve predominantly poor and minority children, have raised concerns about the uneven quality of the teacher preparation their new teachers received," Walsh said in the release. "The Council's endorsement of the national review shows that these superintendents believe that the time has come to shine a spotlight on what is working in teacher preparation and what needs to beimproved."

Posted by Erica Green at 11:36 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 15, 2011

School systems turn to energy conservation as budget saving measures

Going green appears to be helpful to lots of school systems around the country that are reaping big savings by turning off computers at night, turning off lights when no one is in the room, replacing oil gulping furnaces with energy conservation ones and a whole host of other options. The savings are helping to reduce the impact of budget cuts. Maryland school districts have not generally felt the severe cutbacks that have been common in other states, however, the coming budget cycle may be one where systems are beginning to look around for cost savings. I was wondering if readers of the blog know whether any conservation measures have been put into place in the last year or two in school systems in your area?
Posted by Liz Bowie at 10:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

August 10, 2011

Rearranging the furniture in Baltimore County

Members of the public seem to be encouraged that the new president and vice-president of the Baltimore County school board are trying to be more accessible and transparent. Last night parents applauded the fact that the board voted to adopt a new policy for the use of facilities that is a far cry from the one that caused so much outrage six months ago. Stoneleigh parents also were happy that their school is fifth on the list to get money for a new addition.

But what didn't get applause was the new security measures that include rearranging the furniture so that a barrier could be put up between the public and the board.
The furniture was rearranged so that the press table is a little farther away (with a better view, I have to add). In addition, the chairs open to the public are set back farther from where the board sits.

The barrier is made of poles with black tape, the type usually seen at airports that herd people through security or into a line in front of airline counters. The symbolism wasn't lost on two people who spoke during the public comment time and thought the  barriers were yet another way to keep the board separated from the public. Members of the public have already been critical of the fact that emails to board members are screened by the administration first.

One new board member, Michael Collins, suggested that the security barriers would never keep the public away. Anyone could knock them over, he said. He's right. So why put them up?
I asked.

 Here's the school system's statement on why the security measures: “While no specific threat has been made on the Board of Education of Baltimore County, we live in a time where many government entities across the country, including boards of education, have dealt with safety issues."

 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 2:05 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

August 9, 2011

Arne Duncan moves to give states NCLB waivers

Congress couldn't really have thought that 100 percent of students would be reading and doing math on grade level in 2014, but that is what No Child Left Behind expects from all schools by then.

The goal seemed fine in 2002 when it was more than a decade away, but now it is 2011 and in Maryland alone 44 percent of elementary and middle schools didn't live up to NCLB standards last year. That is a lower percentage than some states with higher standards than Maryland. In Tennessee, for instance, only about two thirds of students are failing state tests.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan thinks it is time to act so that tougher and tougher sanctions aren't applied to schools that don't need to be reinvented. So yesterday, he signaled for the second time this summer that he is going to take action. In mid-September he said he will give states the details on how to apply for a waiver.  Maryland, appears to be poised to satisfy all of the criteria for getting a waiver because it has adopted the common core standards, is revamping its teacher evaluation system, among other actions.

Ed Week is reporting that states that get the waivers will be able to reset the pass rates that are needed to make AYP. Whether we will go back several years or just stay where we are in terms of how many students need to pass the state tests for a school to meet AYP is not clear. The following year (2012-2013), USDE may take away requirements that students in failing schools get free tutoring or are allowed to transfer to another school in the district that isn't considered a failing school.

While some members of Congress had questioned whether Duncan's has the authority to unilaterially put aside portions of the law, few voices registered much complaint yesterday. The Duncan announcement came after Congress had nearly failed to deal with the debt ceiling and no one was under any illusion that it could reauthorize NCLB in the next year.

I would be interested to hear from principals, teachers and parents about how they feel about the waivers. I suspect principals and teachers are about to give a collective sigh of relief. One of the questions I would liked to have asked is what happens when Congress finally gets around to reauthorizing NCLB in two or so years? What if the new law has vastly different priorities than the Duncan era direction? Won't that produce a lot of whip lash?

Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:17 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Around the Nation
        

August 8, 2011

How do Baltimore's mayoral candidates stack up on schools?

In a story today, my colleague Julie Scharper and I outlined the plans of Baltimore city's mayoral candidates for tackling the pressing tasks facing Baltimore city schools.

Although the mayor does not oversee the day-to-day operations of the school system, that state of education has emerged as the most important issue in this year's primary election. And, the resounding consensus among community leaders and other stakeholders  is that the next mayor cannot offer casual support in such a critical year. We had some great educators, students and community leaders who brought this story to life, and whose passion in this story raised the level of intensity surrounding the education debate in Baltimore. 

Baltimore students will be hosting a mayor's forum on Wednesday, August 10 at 7 p.m. at the Carmelo Anthony Rec Center, located at 1100 E. Fayette Street. A free reception will precede a question-and-answer session with the candidates, led by students. As of Monday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had not confirmed her attendance, however, candidates Otis Rolley, Catherine Pugh, Jody Landers and Frank Conaway have.  

In our story today, the candidates, including Rawlings-Blake, sounded off about how they would address the following challenges: improving the school system's dilapidated infastructure--an estimated $2.8 billion task--which is at the forefront of the education debate right now; increase funding for the system beyond the city's obligatory levels--which have not increased with enrollment--as the school system's budget crunches are increasingly being felt at the school level; and help the system rebound from a series of disappointments, including a flurry of cheating scandals and across-the-board test score declines.  

Here's a breakdown of where the candidates stood on the issues:

Improving school facilities:

•Rawlings-Blake's plan to fund school facility improvements has been delayed six months; she says it will be released in the next few weeks. She would designate 10 percent of slots money to school construction.

•Rolley would look to public-private partnerships to help fund improvements of 50 schools in the next decade; would dedicate almost all slots revenue to school construction.

•Pugh would press the business and philanthropic community to partner in renovating schools, as was done in her partnership with Maryland Institute College of Art President Fred Lazarus for a design school the two will open this fall.

•Landers would look to close and consolidate schools and programs; convert large spaces, like vacant shopping centers, into classrooms.

•Conaway would look to the private sector to help with funding, specifically developers who have received tax breaks from the city. He also wants more scrutiny of city schools facility contractors, to ensure they are providing honest pricing.

Increased funding for city schools:

•Rawlings-Blake emphasized the city has maintained its "maintenance of effort" to the school system, even with a large budget deficit. .

•Rolley said the state needs to continue its full funding of city schools under the Thornton formula; says answer is not to keep putting money in the schools, but ensuring stewardship of the money already in the system.

•Pugh would look for more money for city schools as she overhauls the city's budget to cut administrative costs.

•Landers would also look for more money to support the school system by cutting city administrative costs.

•Conaway said that if the city can find $304 million for a hotel, it can find more money for schools.

Supporting city's academics:

•Rawlings-Blake would continue supporting Teach for America, city schools CEO Andrés Alonso and the efforts of the school system, such as the new teachers union contract.

•Rolley would return the system to mayoral control, and champion a voucher program for students zoned for the city's five worst-performing middle schools.

•Pugh would be a full partner with the school system, and start by opening a dialogue about what tools the system needs to prevent cheating and declining test scores.

•Landers said that morale is biggest challenge in city schools right now and would propose that Alonso have a forum to hear from teachers and the community who are frustrated; would help the system to restore public trust in the wake of cheating scandals and academic backslide.

•Conaway would promote more vocational programs in the city's schools, to teach students academic and job skills.

 

Posted by Erica Green at 11:38 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 5, 2011

State board hires search firm to find new superintendent

The Maryland State Board of Education hired Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to lead the search for the next state school superintendent. The search firm is working under a $59,000 contract.

The search firm, which was used by Montgomery, Frederick, Carroll and Prince George's county school boards for recent searches for local school superintendents, will begin its work immediately. The Rosemont, Illlinois based firm also recently did the search for a new superintendent for Colorado.

Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates has led approximately 800 searches over the past 20 years, according to a press release by the department.

The search comes after the retirement of Nancy S. Grasmick who had been in the position for 20 years and announced earlier this year that she would be leaving the job. The board appointed Bernard Sadusky, a former Queen Anne's County superintendent who worked in the department for several years, to be an interim.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region
        

August 3, 2011

Task force debates merits of hybrid, elected and appointed board

The Maryland General Assembly task force to look into whether the county should move from an appointed school board to an elected or hybrid one met informally tonight for a spirited discussion of the pros and cons of each option. No decisions were made and no votes taken, and it is clear that there are still deep divisions among the members as well as a number of members who have not made up their minds.

While Sen. Bobby Zirkin is a strong proponent of a hybrid board, other members are not as sure that an elected board would be better. Here are some of the major issues the members of the task force discussed for more than two hours:

 

1.  How to ensure that there is minority representation on the board, as well as a parent and some voice representing teachers. I may be wrong, but right now I don't believe the board has a single member who has a child in Baltimore County public schools. Dunbar Brooks, who is African American and a former president of both the state school board and the Baltimore County school board, spoke forcefully about how the county council has not had much representation from the black community in the past and would probably not have much on the school board if all of the board is elected. With the Howard County executive now concerned that minorities are not represented on the all elected Howard County school board, Brooks questioned how anything would be different in Baltimore County. If "the great liberal Howard County" has trouble, he said then why should things be different in "conservative Baltimore County?" He also is concerned, as is Del. Steve Lafferty, that a hybrid school board might have two different classes of members, those who were elected and those appointed. Such division might lead to the elected board members only representing a very narrow interest from their community.

2. Why not reduce the board from eleven to nine members, and create a hybrid board with seven elected from each of the council district and two members appointed by way of a nominating committee, with a confirmation process through the senate; or why not have the county executive appoint from a list supplied by the nominating committee and then approved by the senate. Another option would be to have the members of the board appointed by a nominating committee or the county executive, but then have them run in the next general election, just as court judges do.

 3. Why change something that may not be broken? Some task force members said few members of the general public came to public hearings on the issue and most of them represented the Towson schools. No one came from a huge swath of the south and west sides of the county, one task force member pointed out. If the public doesn't care that much, then why make a change?

4.Why not put the issue up for referendum and let the voters decide whether they want an elected or appointed board or a hybrid?

 The task force also is looking at whether there should be changes in the number of staff assigned to the school board and whether there are other ways to make sure the board is more accountable to the public without changing the selection process.

 The task force will be meeting in late August or early September for a lengthy meeting to discuss what recommendation will be sent to the general assembly.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 9:34 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County
        

Longtime BTU head named to national union

A longitme Baltimore Teachers Union president and chief negotiator, has been elected to help lead one of the largest union organizations in the country.

Loretta Johnson was elected vice president of the AFL-CIO, a national federation of labor unions, according to a release sent Tuesday by the American Federation of Teachers, the parent group of the BTU.

Johnson was president of the Baltimore Teachers Union’s paraprofessional chapter for 35 years and president of AFT Maryland for 17 years. She was said to be the driving force behind the new, landmark BTU contract, living up to her reputation as one of the most relentless negotiators many city school officials said they'd ever sat at the table with.

“It’s wonderful to be recognized in this way by my peers in the labor movement,” Johnson said in the release. “I look forward to using my position with the AFL-CIO to continue my lifelong fight for working people."

Johnson also served for 30 years as a vice president of the national AFT before being elected AFT executive vice president in 2008. Johnson will become AFT secretary-treasurer on Sept. 9.


“Lorretta knows the challenges faced by working families because she’s spent her entire career working for them,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, in the release. “Her years of experience as an educator, union member and labor leader will be invaluable in her role as an AFL-CIO vice president.” 

Posted by Erica Green at 10:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

August 2, 2011

City working to get derailed science curriculum back on track

In a story last week, we wrote about the city's beginning effort to revive science education in city schools.  With the district increasing its focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education, more than $500,000 was spent to have a four-week, project-based learning summer program in 22 elementary schools this year. The programs will continue into the school year, and expand to 10 more schools. 

The results so far have been impressive. On my visit to Sarah M. Roach Elementary last week, young elementary students explained the importance of the hermit crab habitats they built , and how they were able to troubleshoot uncooperative generators that powered the wind turbines they had designed. You can read more about the science program and students' projects here.

City school officials said the goal is to have more city students getting their hands dirty and having their curiosity piqued at an earlier age. The district also needs to ensure that the subject is being taught consistently throughout students' educational careers, as science has taken a back seat to the math and reading skills that are tested on state assessments.

According to results released by the state education department earlier this month, the city's fifth-grade science scores on the Maryland School Assessments dropped 3 percentage points to 36 percent passing, while eighth-graders' results rose 3 percentage points to 37.6 percent. The city scores are 30 points below the state average, though the state has historically struggled with science education.

The new STEM programs will start in elementary schools and, if funding levels allow, will spread to every school in the city.

Posted by Erica Green at 2:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City
        

Montgomery County joins charter school movement

In case you missed it: Montgomery County school officials finally gave the go-ahead last week to open the first charter school in the district. The decison to allow Community Montessori Public Charter School to operate came after a long, contentious debate about allowing the school to breach a longstanding charter barrier in the county.

Calling it a "long-overdue reform," The Sun's editorial board welcomed Montgomery County to the state's charter school movement being led by Baltimore. The editorial also reiterates its position that Maryland needs to continue to strengthen its charter laws to allow more charters to flourish throughout the state. You can read the full editorial here.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Charter Schools
        

After MSA disappointment, city students also backslide on national test

The performance of Baltimore city's first-and-second grade students took a dip on national standardized assessments, according to results of the Stanford 10 exam released by the city school system late last week.

The test, which shows how the city's youngest students perform compared to a sample population of student from across the country, is the second data set indicating a stall in achievement for city students this year. The school system also noted a decline in scores on the Maryland School Assessments in nearly every grade (3-8) in reading and math. In science, the city's scores also dropped, which you can read more about here.

Of the latest set of scores, city schools CEO Andres Alonso said that it reinforced "a call to action," in reforming instruction and curriculum in city classrooms. He also reinforced a message he honed in on during the MSA disappointment, in emphasizing progress students have made over time. You can read more in our story here.

Unlike the MSA's, the school system chooses to participate in the Stanford 10 to chart the progress of its primary students but it is not counted toward the standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Still, the city has celebrated students' progress on the Stanford's, which has continually increased up until this year.

In first-grade reading, the number of students passing dropped from the 51st percentile to the 55th percentile last year on the Stanford 10, and in second-grade reading, the drop was from the 51st percentile to the 47th percentile. In math, the percentile rank fell to 61 from 67; passing second-grade scores dropped to the 56th percentile from the 61st.

In all cases, the scores are better than in 2007 and 2004, when the test was first given. The scores then ranged between the 36th and 40th percentile rank.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:28 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City
        
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