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December 27, 2011

What to make of Baltimore County's rising suspensions?

As reported by my colleague Liz Bowie: Baltimore County reported the highest suspension rate of any Maryland district apart from the Eastern Shore in the last school year, despite its efforts to focus on discipline that doesn't require students to miss classroom time.

About 10,000 students were suspended — or about one in every 10 — a rate that exceeds Baltimore City, where suspensions have been significantly reduced under CEO Andrés Alonso. The county is also noting disproportionate numbers of African American and special education students, which experts said county officials said was incredibly problematic. 

Note: However, after years of declines the city school system's suspension rates rose last year as a result of an uptick of attacks on students and teachers, as well as insubordination. There's also been a debate about the crackdown on suspensions in the city, as teachers say that students and sometimes even parents have been rather opportunistic in using the the policy against educators.

As Liz's story pointed out: "The issue has prompted fierce debate — among education advocates and at school board meetings. Proponents defend suspensions as a time-honored and effective punishment, while opponents point to recent research showing that suspended students are at higher risk for dropping out, repeating a grade and entering the criminal justice system."

So, what do you make of the county's suspension trends? Is the county heading down a road that requires the same uproar that the city endured years ago?

FYI--The rest of the state shook out like this:

Across the state, 6.8 percent of students were suspended last school year, according to data released this month by the Maryland State Department of Education. The rates ranged from a low of 2.6 percent in Montgomery County to a high of 14 percent in Dorchester County. Baltimore City's suspensions rose this past year from 8.4 percent to 9.1 percent. Harford County was at 6.6 percent, Howard at 3.3 percent and Anne Arundel at 8.2 percent.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:52 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 23, 2011

Should principals be held legally liable for bullying?

A Baltimore city jury ruled Thursday, that they should not.

But that has not stopped the debate about whether the defense that held up in court--the parents of a bullied special needs student didn't document every interaction and complaint to their schools--holds up in public opinion.

A four-day-trial ended Thursday, with a city jury deciding that the principal of Hazelwood Elementary and the former principal of Glenmount Elementary school were not negligent in addressing the chronic bullying of a special needs student, who suffered behavioral issues as a result of a traumatic brain injury.

Edmund and Shawna Sullivan, the parents of the boy, brought a $1.3 million lawsuit against the school system--though every count against the system as a whole was thrown out--that ended up leaving the principals on the line for negligence and gross negligence.

The principals admitted that they were made aware by the Sullivans of several incidents at the schools.The principal of Hazelwood admitted that there may even have been a report of the boy and his sister "being beaten and robbed.

And while jurors believe that bullying took place, they said there wasn't enough evidence that their inaction led to the roughly $35,000 in physical and emotional damage (in addition to the damage you can quantify), because the parents hadn't documented with formal bullying forms and complaints to the school. Jurors also said the Sullivans were lacking consistent recounts of names, dates, and times. 

However, outside of the legal considerations, jurors also said that they took into consideration the fact that their decision could essentially declare open season on school systems and principals across the country.

In our story today, the president of the city's principal union said the season has already begun. 

But, in a district that is built around principal autonomy and accountability, who should be held responsible for the damage that is caused from a school yard rite of passage that, if unaddressed, can land children in mental institutions and educators in turmoil?

If not, who should? 



Posted by Erica Green at 10:12 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 19, 2011

Bullied student, experts testify in third day of city schools bullying trial

The older sister of the special needs student whose alleged bullying has landed the school system in court, closed out the third day of a jury trial in which a family is seeking $1.3 million in damages after they say school system principals ignored their complaints. You can read the recent coverage of the trial, which began last Thursday, here and here.

The parents, Shawna and Edmund Sullivan, are suing the system on behalf of their two kids who attended Hazelwood and Glenmount elementary schools in the 2008-2010 school years.

The 14-year-old girl, who the Sun is not naming, attended fifth grade at Hazelwood Elementary school in 2008-2009, where she said her belongings were urinated on, she and her brother were jumped by a group of students for their lunch money, and targeted for racial harassment. She also testified late Monday that after she found her brother unconscious outside of school one morning, the school's principal said "he was perfectly fine."

The girl described how she watched her brother, who suffers from disabilities stemming from a brain injury, slowly grow more and more depressed after he was repeatedly attacked by students.

"He became more depressed because he thought he did something bad to make everybody hate him," the girl told jurors. "I told him he didn't, and that the kids at that school were just really, really mean."

The school system's lawyer, Quinton Herbert, appeared to target the student's selective memory, asking her to recount incidents, witnesses, and actions--which he will later compare to the story she gave when she was questioned months ago.

Herbert also used similar tactics of punching holes in testimonies, including those of two expert witnesses called by Donna King, the Sullivans lawyer.

Herbert questioned the experts about the thoroughness of their investigations into the matters, the knowledge of their subject areas, and their familiarity with city school policies and procedures.

Inconsistencies, like the fact that two expert witnesses rendered an opinion months before they had reviewed all of the documents of the case, were pointed out, as was the fact that expert witnesses are paid by the plaintiffs.

Still, experts stuck by their assessments that the special needs student was neglected, ignored, and at the end of the day, he was emotionally damaged from the relentless bullying that his family said took place at the schools.

Arthur Horton, a veteran clinical, behavioral and neuro-psychologist who examined the bullied student, said that he believed the student should always have been in a "specialized setting for brain injured children," as opposed to a mainstream school, though the system recommended him for inclusion to the general ed population.

He told jurors of how the boy described being hit, choked, threatened, and believed that other students would try to 'kill him' and "break his arm."

Herbert pointed out that the boy apparently made similar allegations against his father. Horton said that he believed that abuse in the home had been ruled out by Johns Hopkins--where the boy was institutionalized for 10 days--and that it was normal for children under distress to exaggerate stories. 

System attorneys also made a point of asking if aggressive and erratic behavior was normal behavior for brain-injured children.

Horton testified that he has treated "many, many brain-injured children, and they typically do not have this degree of the point that they have to be hospitalized." He added that it was "pretty straightforward that [ bullying at Hazelwood]" had caused the distress. 

"I felt that the child became aggressive and felt bad about himself from being in that awful situation," Horton said. "The stress of that sort of thing would certainly disrupt anybody." 

Another expert in Maryland's bullying policies took the stand early Monday, concluding that the administrators at Hazelwood and Glenmount failed to follow protocols that guide reports of bullying.

Veronica Altvater, a retired Baltimore county school counselor with more than 35 years in the city and county school systems combined, served as an expert witness on Maryland's bullying policies, but not without some grilling from Herbert.

Herbert pointed out throughout her testimony, which began Friday, that Altvater was not familiar with the city school system's policies--even though the state law supersedes--and that it appeared she had not reviewed all of the documentation associated with the case. He also harped on the fact that she had served in more than 8 Baltimore County cases as an expert witness.

He also suggested that Altvater could have gone into city schools to talk to principals and review student files--which she promptly responded would a.)not have been allowed, and b.) would have been highly inappropriate.

Altvater went on to offer a strong opinion on the state's bullying policies and the responsibility of administrators to report and address any bullying they witness or made aware of. 

Alvater said she only saw a health suite "accident report" in the student's records from Glenmount--the only evidence that the special needs boy had been antagonized. The accident report noted that the boy had been "hit or tripped" and that the principal was speaking with a group of students.

"It's hard to see how being hit is an accident," Altvater said. "My opinion would be that [the principal] did not follow the regulations."

According to Altvater, there should have been a reporting form filed, and an investigation--though in cross-examination, it was revealed that she had not recently read Maryland's model policy on bullying--which she said was the same policy as 2008, when it was written. The policy outlines a series of potential actions that the principal could have taken, outside of suspension. 

But Altvater also said that there was no indication that an investigation had ever taken place to render a fair sanction. 

"The importance of the investigation would be certainly to get to the truth of the matter, and also to protect the victim...and have consequences for the bullies. In the absence of an investigation, she said, "the atmosphere would be one where students don't feel safe." 

The trial continues Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:50 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

Superintendent search questionnaire for Baltimore County

The Baltimore County school board is asking for the public to comment on what characteristics are most important in a new superintendent. The school board is hoping to hire a new leader for the district by next spring to replace outgoing superintendent Joe A. Hairston. 

 The first attempt to gather public comment is through an online survey on the school district's website. The survey is located on the lower right hand side of the home page and asks questions that are essentially the same whether you are a teacher, parent or administrator. 
The survey will be available on the website for several weeks.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore County

Expansion of summer programs for gifted students

Not long ago, Maryland had the money to offer one and two week summer programs around the state to gifted and talented students. These students, who have often been passed over in the rush to help low achieving kids, could learn about the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, jazz music in Baltimore or history at St. Mary's City. From Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, the state helped subsidize more than a dozen programs that allowed high achieving students to stretch their minds in the arts, sciences, and humanites.

But budget cuts shut down most of the programs several years ago, leaving only 10 available. Today, though, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has pledged to give $725,000 over three years to provide scholarships to 100 students to attend the programs at no cost. The money will allow bright students in high poverty areas who often get the opportunity to attend enrichment programs.

The summer centers are open to all gifted and talented students in the state.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

December 16, 2011

Emotional testimony continued Friday in city schools bullying trial

In the second day of the jury trial for a $1.3 million bullying lawsuit against Baltimore city schools, the grandmother of two students, one who suffers from a brain injury, who were allegedly tortured and ignored at Hazelwood and Glenmount elementary schools took the stand, affirming claims by Shawna and Eddy Sullivan that the principals at the two schools did nothing to help their children.

In a story Thursday, we outlined the lawsuit, which alleges several counts of negligence and state law violations on the part of the school system and the principals of the two schools individually. 

 In opening statements Thursday, Donna King told jurors that her clients, the Sullivan family, suffered financially and emotionally as a result of the negligence. The boy, now 10 years old, allegedly was choked unconscious at Hazelwood where he attended first grade, and beaten by a group of students at Glenmount in the second grade before he was committed to a mental institution.

The school system's lawyer, Quinton Herbert, refuted the claims, telling the jury that the incidents never happened--as evidenced by a lack of witnesses to the alleged attacks, and the boy's history of violence and fabricating stories, which he attributed to his special needs. He also defended the two principals as experienced educators with more than 75 years between them, who followed proper protocols.

On Friday, the student's grandmother took the stand, supporting the Sullivans claims. She said that while the children were in her care, she was called about 2 to 3 times a week to come and pick her grandson up from both schools, because his teachers couldn't handle him.

The grandmother, Ann Marie Pollotta, was a career pediatric nurse before retirement--including at two Baltimore city schools.

She said in her brief exchanges with Hazelwood's principal Sidney Twiggs, who she said addressed her as "Grandma" upon meeting her, there was no help offered to the student, except a reference to a counselor at the school. She said she asked if she should record the exchange with school officials and was told recording devices weren't allowed in school facilities.

On several occasions, Pollotta said, she retrieved her grandson from the school, and on two occasions he had physical evidence of abuse. In one of the last retrievals, she described, the boy was apprehensive, angry, and concluded that: "The school hates me. They don't want me here."

In a cross-examination, Herbert, the school system's lawyer zeroed in on the recording device, asking why, if the Pollotta had one with her, she didn't record her grandson's bruises and behavior. He also asked her again to describe the phone calls from the school--where administrators called for the student to be picked up. He also questioned her motives since Pollotta acknowledged that she did not appreciate being addressed as "Grandma," by Hazelwood principal.

At Glenmount, where the student transferred after severe bullying at Hazelwood, Pollota described similar situations. She said that the student was "happy to be back at school, and it seemed like he was making progress."

Until a week later, when she received her first phone call from another distraught teacher. The second-grade teacher, Pollotta said, indicated that she couldn't find the student after lunch--and later found him out on the playground unconscious. She said at Glenmount, she also picked the student up and he had suffered cuts on the mouth, and puncture wounds on his legs.

In cross examination, Herbert only sought to test her credibility by repeating her testimony. One particular point that was stressed by Herbert, was that she was, ultimately, called by the school. 

Expert witnesses in state reporting protocols for bullying and harassment will take the stand on Monday, beginning at 9 a.m. The principals of Hazelwood and Glenmount will also take the stand next week.
Posted by Erica Green at 2:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 15, 2011

Race to the Top for early childhood announcement tomorrow

The U.S. Department of Education is expected to announce which states will be given Race to the Top money for early childhood education tomorrow. Maryland was one of the states that entered the Early Learning Challenge grants race. The announcement will be made at the White House at 10 am.

Maryland could win as much as $50 million and has pledged to spend the money on giving special education, low income and English language learners a head start to prepare them for primary school.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

December 14, 2011

Filipino teachers, Alonso have emotional exchange at city school board meeting

Before a packed audience that included about a dozen tearful Filipino teachers, their supporters, as well as other education community members, a group of teachers pleaded to the Baltimore city school board for updates about the future of international teachers in the district.

As we've reported before, the city's international teachers are facing a time of uncertainty in the district, particularly the first group of teachers who came to the city in 2005 on a six-year work visa. Since 2005, more than 600 Filipino teachers have come to the city to fill critical vacancies in special education, math and science.

The Filipino teachers' visas are facing expiration dates that required the system to begin renewal filings months ago--more than a year ago for some --but there were delays as the school system built its capacity and play catch-up in helping teachers with their filings, spending more than $5 million on the initiative since the summer. Since then, a team of immigration lawyers, and teachers union and city school officials have spearheaded the efforts.

On Tuesday, two Filipino teachers joined their American colleagues during the public comment portion of the meeting to air their concerns about the lack of communication and uncertainty surrounding the district's efforts to help them secure residency.

The teachers weren't asking to stay in the district, but to know either way--with enough notice to adjust their lives if they needed to.

"I only have one year, one month and 18 days left," one Filipino teacher told the board. She said she still hadn't heard from the district about her system-sponsored immigration filings.

"We are convinced that you are committed to securing our residency," another Filipino teacher told school officials, but added that according to immigration guidelines for the filing process, "there are a lot of us who don't fall under the best case scenario."

American also weighed in on behalf of their colleagues, telling the board that the teachers "have not been treated as they should be by the school system."

They even came armed with statistics that show that the international teachers have a 30 to 40 percentage-point higher retention rate than teachers who come from alternatively certified teaching programs, which the city heavily recruits from. 

"They're devoted, they work hard, and they stay," said Bill Bleich, a teacher at Poly.

Bleich shared a story about one of his Filipino colleagues had to pull her son from college this year because her status was in limbo. He also spoke of how teachers had not been informed by the school system that their applications had been denied.

"Had they been informed they would have been able to apply to another school system, but it was beyond a reasonable amount of time," Bleich said. "In most cases, they don't know what's been done and what's going to be done."

Joining the conversation was Margot Young, who identified herself as the coordinator for new teacher induction in 2005 when the first cohort of Filipino teachers arrived. She said that the teachers "overcame a lot of obstacles, and were willing to be flexible to do their best for our students."

"We asked them to come," Young said. "I do believe we have people who care about the kids--so, let's care about the teachers." 

City school officials have repeatedly said they face stringent federal immigration regulations that require them to prove they need international educators when there are American teachers who can fill teaching jobs.

And it appears meeting that federal burden of proof will be harder to come by.

In a rebuttal riddled with frustration, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso revealed that the system is carrying more than 100 surplus teachers--for the fourth year in a row.

Alonso, an immigrant, also said he was "offended by the notion that we're not doing our best."

He went on to reference how Prince George's County, after being fined millions by the labor department for its hiring practices during the recruitment of Filipino teachers, "sent everybody home, whereas we have tried to help every single person."

"We have worked so hard to make this happen, and we're looking at every case in extraordinary ways," Alonso said. "The anxiety is a function of the fact that we don't control the process." 

Alonso said he took the presentation as teachers questioning his word that the school system was helping them in every way it could.

He had met with the Filipino teaching community twice where he  communicated the district's efforts and challenges in helping them secure permanent residency. 

He said in some of the cases, the district ran out of time, but in others they couldn't make the case to the federal government. 

"Now, I'm having to say it a third time because they're not getting the answer that they want,"he said, adding that "it's very problematic for me to have the same conversation." 

The Filipino Educators of Maryland issued a statement to The Sun recently acknowledging that despite the system's best efforts, the uncertainty has led dozens of teachers to leave Baltimore for other systems in the U.S., and as far as Australia, leaving principals to fill vacancies in the middle of the year.

The Baltimore Teachers Union has said that they believed the district has also exhausted its options in helping the Filipino teachers.

When the international teachers were lobbied to vote for the district's new union contract last fall, they were told by union officials that there would be a  Memorandum of Understanding to help with their immigration statuses. That MOU never came to fruition, and the union said it was deemed unnecessary because the district willingly agreed to help the teachers.

But it seems that promise did little to allay Filipino teachers' fears.

"The international teachers are very anxious right now, and we go to school, do our best, and we know deep in our hearts that we love the kids, we love the job," said one of the Filipino teachers. "We just don't know when it will end." 

Posted by Erica Green at 4:22 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

Alonso announces new cabinet member, leadership shuffles

Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso announced Tuesday night new additions to his cabinet and a leadership shuffle that fills two critical roles in the city school system.

Of note, Kim Lewis, who long oversaw the system's Office of Special Education, was formally appointed as the new head of the system's Office of Human Capital--a long troubled department, that has seen an enormous amount of turnover and turmoil in recent years. According to a release from the school system, Lewis was successful in fully staffing schools this year, which is usually a large feat for the system.

Kim Hoffman, who worked in the district's special education office, will take the helm as the interim director of special education. It is unclear whether Hoffman will be the permanent leader of the office, which undoubtedly is one of the most critical as the system seeks to permanently shed a consent decree linked to the 26-year Vaughn G. special education lawsuit. A settlement agreement in the suit is due to end this September, if the district can prove it has improved its service to special education students.

Karen Webber Ndor, former principal of National Academy Foundation (whom I've had the pleasure of working with in the past), will take the position of Director of Student Support and Safety, taking the place of Jonathan Brice. Brice began heading up the district's "networks" at the beginning of the school year.

Alonso seems to have tapped his old stomping ground in New York for someone to take over the system's Office of Accountability and Accountability--which was filled and vacated in the last year-and-a-half by Matt Van Itallie.

Joining the district in January to oversee the office that pumps out the school system's data is Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, the current senior advisor to the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. According to the school system, Bell-Ellwanger is prime for the new position as she has overseen New York City’s Research and Policy Support Group, the primary source of research, data reporting and analysis for the district.

You can read more about the appointments, here. 


Posted by Erica Green at 10:09 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

Thursday student-led film screening shows challenges, hopes for Baltimore schools

In five minutes, a group of middle school students tackle challenges that have plagued the Baltimore city school system for decades: large class sizes, bullies, strained relationships between teachers and students, and inequities in school resources.

On Thursday, students who are taking part in this semester's Wide Angle Youth Media after-school program will host a screening of their film, "Better Schools. Better Futures: Baltimore Students Speak Out for a Better Education," where they hope to share their experiences with city school officials and community members.

The screening will be held at the Enoch Pratt Free Library, located at 1303 Orleans Street, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The students will also host a discussion about the film after the viewing.

Students immediately confront viewers with their mission and purpose in the first minute of the film: "We think that public schools needs to change because we don't feel like everyone who goes to school in Baltimore city is getting a good education. We are being honest and telling you what we really think so that you can help us to create the kinds of schools where kids can really learn."

From there, different voices join the chorus of critiques from the middle schoolers, representing schools from across the city, who sound off on the system's challenges, what their perfect school would look like, and what they need from their schools to be successful. They offer these suggestions to teachers, administrators, and their fellow peers.

"The amount of people in the class," is what one student identified as a challenge.

"I need my school to be clean," says another.

Another student shares that in their perfect school, "teachers would care about their students like their own children," and not act like they want to get paid.

Originally, students planned to focus their production on identity and what makes them happy, and from those discussions emerged a strong theme about the role of the school system in their lives, said to Sarah Milinski, the middle school lead teacher and program coordinator for Wide Angle Youth.

Wide Angle Youth Media is a non-profit that aims to provide Baltimore's youth with tools to express themselves through video technology  and public speaking. The organization hosts after school programs, community events and a youth-run television show. The students are participating in a 12-week-program, and devoted about 8 weeks to production.

"At the beginning, the kids kept writing and talking about the school system," Milinksi said. "We try to base our productions on what's relevant in their loves at the time, and there was this overwhelming sense that the schools aren't giving them what they needed."

In the past, students who have attended the program produced films about everything from recycling to human rights in the city's Middle East neighborhood.

The productions from Wide Angle Youth have garnered local and even national attention in the past, Milinski said. Last year, students won "Best PSA" (public service announcement) at the Chicago International Film Festival for a short film on recycling. 

But students who are part of this year's Wide Angle Youth project said they just want to be heard.

Christopher Hodges, a 7th grader at Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy-East, said he joined Wide Angle Youth to learn about animation and video editing, while earning his community service hours.

From the film, he wanted educators to learn that, "It's not just students who have problems, it's the adults and the parents who have problems and bring them into the school." 

Christopher said he likes his school because it has high standards, "and keeps you in check." But, he said that when students act out, adults need to understand that "usually something happened in their house." 

Keontae Moodie, an 8th grader at the Inner Harbor East Academy, said that she was required to join the Wide Angle Youth program for community service as part of a disciplinary action, but stayed on to the project because "she wanted to talk about real life and what goes on behind the scenes of Baltimore schools."

"I want them to take away that [city schools] are not bad, " Keontae said, "teachers and students just need to understand each other. We have to respect them to get respect back in order to learn."

 "But honestly," she added. "I just want them to hear us, for real."

Posted by Erica Green at 9:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 13, 2011

Has the Baltimore Teachers Union contract lived up to its promises?

According to several teachers in the city, it hasn't.

In a story today, we took a look at how the union contract has panned out since it divided the city's teaching corps in two votes last year, and emerged as one of the innovative and radical teacher contracts in the country.

Outside of the immediate pay raises, several teachers have said that the contract's details are just as murky as they were a year ago, leaving their professional trajectories in limbo. Other teachers said that the ultimate impact the contract will have is worth the wait. 

District and union officials maintain that the contract will still revolutionize the teaching profession in Baltimore city, encouraging teachers to do and earn more. But, they said that making the deadlines for building the critical infrastructure to carry out the contract has been harder than they thought. The lifeline of the pact is only three years, and the dozen teachers I spoke with were split on whether they would vote for it again.

I think our expert Emily Cohen, of the National Council on Teacher Quality put it best: "There was a lot of attention given to this, and for it not to work would be unfortunate for Baltimore teachers and unfortunate for reform," she said. "Ideas only go so far as the capacity to implement them."

I'd love to hear from our education community about whether they believe the contract has lived up to its promises? Or is it too early to tell? 

Posted by Erica Green at 12:30 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 9, 2011

New education reform advocacy group in Maryland

More than five years ago, a group called ConnCAN formed in Connecticut to advocate for those who wanted to bring a more reform agenda to the state. Now with the backing of a national organization, the group is spreading to new states, including Maryland. MarylandCAN's new executive director, Curtis Valentine, began work in August and has been talking to educators and advocacy groups around the state since then. 

Half of the funding for MarylandCAN comes from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. The remainder will need to be raised within the state through individual and foundation donations, according to Valentine. The agenda for MarylandCAN is still in the development stages, but Valentine said it should be clearer by the beginning of January.  Valentine said he is going around the state meeting with lots of people in the education community, including superintendents, parents, teachers and legislators, and asking: "Where can we really move the needle?"

Whatever the agenda becomes, he said, it will fall into one of three categories: greater choice of schools for students, greater flexibility for teachers and principals to educate students in the way they want, and greater accountability. 

While there's clearly an education reform agenda here, Valentine said he hopes to bring in parents and others who want to advocate but have no prior knowledge of the reform movement, but know that their child's school isn't working and want to do something about it.

The board is being expanded, but currently includes Omari Todd, at Teach for America; Jason Botel at KIPP; Peter Kannam, former executive director of the Baltimore operation of New Leaders for New Schools;  Howard Stone, former vice chair of the Prince George's County Public Schools as well as a teacher of the year from Howard County.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:34 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Around the Region

December 7, 2011

Tense exchange at Baltimore County school board meeting

In an unusually sharp exchange, school board members  disagreed at Tuesday night's public board meeting over data that apparently showed high numbers of suspensions at some county high schools. Board member Ramona Johnson had requested in advance of the meeting that school administrators provide the board with data on suspension rates broken down by high school. The data was not made available to the public during the meeting, although a public spokeswoman said she would provide it later.

Board member Cornelia Bright Gordon then asked a series of questions that tried to pick apart the meaning of the suspension data and asked for additional numbers from Barbara Walker, who is in charge of county high schools.

But another member, Michael Collins, said he was not concerned with the suspension data and wanted to make the staff and principals in the room aware that "you have one on the board" that supports their decision to suspend students. He said high school students are given a handbook with the rules and that if they break the rules, they should be suspended. "I am not the least bit worried about suspensions," he said, adding "keep doing it."

Bright Gordon said she felt attacked and found his remarks "demeaning and inappropriate." She said she had the right to ask questions.

Collins shot back: "I am not attacking you or any other member. I have a distinctly different point of view." Finally, he added, "I am not attacking you one bit and get over it."


Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:14 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore County

December 6, 2011

Weinberg Foundation to fund mult-million dollar library project

An effort to leverage public-private partnerships to fund massive Baltimore city school facility updates kicked off this week with the announcement of a $3.78 million project launched by the Weinberg Foundation, in conjunction with up to 15 other partners, to build state-of-the-art libraries in elementary/middle schools.

Officials announced the project Monday at Moravia Park Elementary/Middle School, where a library design is already underway. Construction is expected to begin in the summer.

According to a release by the organization, the libraries will feature new equipment, reading materials, and furniture including e-readers (Nooks), a bank of computers, and a “Parenting Corner” for parents and guardians to visit the library and share time with their child.

In addition to Moravia Park,  Southwest Baltimore Charter School, Thomas Johnson Elementary/Middle, and the East Baltimore Community School are also slated to participate in the Weinberg's library project. The foundation will financially support up to 30% of the actual costs of each library and an operating grant for two years to increase staff support and provide professional development.

The schools participating in the project were identified for having public funding that can go toward the projects, and others meet a criteria of having 35 percent or more of its students receiving free and reduced lunch.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:35 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 5, 2011

Hrabowski and Kirwan meet with Obama to discuss price tag for college

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III and university system Chancellor William E. Kirwan were among a group of education leaders who met with president Barack Obama on Monday to discuss strategies for controlling college costs.

“He made it very clear that he’s concerned about American families’ ability pay for college,” Hrabowski said of Obama.  “I was encouraged by the president’s willingness to listen carefully.”

Hrabowski said he and Kirwan described Maryland’s efforts to improve efficiency in its system and to redesign entry-level courses so students don’t waste money by failing them. The UMBC president added that the presence of two Maryland leaders in a group of only a dozen experts showed the esteem with which the state’s university system is regarded. 

“Maryland is really admired for the innovation of its practices,” Hrabowski said.

Hrabowski said he expected the discussion at the White House to be the first of many on the way to producing substantive policy changes.

A White House spokesman said Obama, “conveyed the urgent need to pursue bold and innovative solutions to help more Americans attain a higher education at an affordable price.”

 -Childs Walker

Posted by Liz Bowie at 6:22 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Around the Region

Stevenson University president makes $1.49 million in 2009

Stevenson University president Kevin J. Manning ranked among the highest paid private college presidents in the country in 2009, according to a salary survey released Monday by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

With total compensation of $1.49 million, Manning ranked 15th among the 519 presidents in the survey.  Former Johns Hopkins President William J. Brody ranked second on the overall list, receiving $3.8 million, almost all from his retirement package, in his last year on the job. A story by my colleague, Childs Walker, details the compensation packages. 

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Around the Region

Minimum GPA to play sports

The Maryland State Board of Education is expected to vote tomorrow on whether to require athletes in public high schools to have a 2.0 grade point average to play on a sports team. While school officials are generally in favor of the new standard, which already exists in 16 districts, we wondered if some athletes will be unable to play. The new rule would be advise to school systems and not binding, however, it is expected to become accepted if it is passed by the board.

We are looking for teachers, principals, parents or athletes who are worried about the ramification on teams. We ask that anyone with an example, post a comment or get in touch with me at


Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:33 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Around the Region

Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth offers guide for the gifted

The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, which conducts the nation’s oldest and most extensive academic talent search and offers educational programming for students with exceptionally high academic ability,  has put out a free resource for parents of gifted students who want to seek out academic opportunities for their students.

The Center is offering Compass: A Directory of Resources for Bright Students in Baltimore, a free guide that highlights academic opportunities for high-achieving students in kindergarten through 12th grade in the Baltimore metropolitan area and is available online.

“What we’ve learned firsthand is that there are many extraordinary students in Baltimore and a number of quality organizations that can meet these students’ needs. ” said Karen Bond, senior director of academic services for CTY, in a release from the Center. "So the big question was, essentially, how to arrange an introduction. Compass was designed to point the families of some of Baltimore’s brightest children in the right direction.”

Resources in the directory include websites, mentoring programs, academic summer and online courses, college preparation programs, extracurricular activities, and a calendar of important scholarship and admission deadlines.

CTY produced Compass in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools and the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust. The directory comes in glossy print and electronic versions. To request a free copy, call 410-735-6196 or email


Posted by Erica Green at 10:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City
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