February 14, 2012

Mayor, Alonso do agree on one part of school construction plan

In a story today about Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake's State of the City address, our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper touched a lot on how the mayor has essentially rejected city schools CEO Andres Alonso's plan to rapidly rebuild the city's dilapidated school buildings with more debt, and instead champions a plan based on a slower, but arguably steadier, stream of revenue.

But, I believe a sleeping giant is where the mayor and Alonso are of the same mind: schools, possibly some pretty historic anchors in communities, will have to close in order for any facilities overhaul plan will work.

If you remember, I wrote in October about Alonso's plan to close schools that are underutilized or beyond repair--which he warned would be a large-scale, but painful process.

The school system commissioned an inventory of sorts on the school system's facilities, which will guide the decisions about what schools will close. That report is expected this month, or next. 

The mayor also touched on this part of Alonso's plan in her speech on Monday, telling city residents that, in order to begin fixing schools,"we need to look at the current inventory and how we are using the resources that we have."

"Some schools will expand, some schools will merge, and some schools that we may have fond memories of will need to close," the mayor said. "Nostalgia has the power to make the past a priority over the present. And we might not always like what is proposed, but all of us should support the work of the School Board on this mission—it’s what’s best for our kids, our future, and it will help get Baltimore growing again."

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Categories: Baltimore City

February 9, 2012

Updated: After Alonso PIP letter went out, teachers' PIP stories rolled in

Just before our story about the rise in PIPs among city teachers posted last night, Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso sent out a letter to teachers explaining the district's new approach to evaluating teachers, which many are decrying as a way to cut down on union contract costs the district can't afford. And we've also learned that city principals are also experiencing a surge in PIPs, which their union leader believes is a strategy for the city to more easily fire principals. 

 Updated: February 9 at 8:19 a.m.

After this letter went out, the PIP stories began rolling in. I thought I'd share some since, despite my best efforts to include as many teacher voices as possible, many couldn't speak on the record for fear of retribution. Though rare, The Sun granted teachers anonymity for this story, given the position many were in. So, I thought I'd share some feedback to my story.

One teacher wrote and said that they discovered Wednesday they had retroactively received unsatisfactory ratings--having never been observed or gone through the mid-year evaluation process.
The teacher never sat or signed anything, they said, and the evaluation was submitted after the due date. Consequently, they was placed on a PIP without anyone ever even informing them.

"Generally improvement plans tend to only work if we know [we] are on them," the teacher wrote.

Another, a veteran teacher, said they were informed from the city's benchmark MSA scores, that their 'interventions' weren't working for 34 percent of their students, half of which had never shown up to school.

"They just said my data shows my interventions aren't working," the veteran teacher said. "I thought: How do you know? And if they haven't been working since October, why are you just telling me in January?"

One veteran teacher, who said "the system doesn't need us anymore," wrote in and put the interventions in perspective: 

"Just imagine, a 14 or 15 year who walks out of you class cursing you," she wrote. "This same student makes no effort to complete any class work. Part of your interventions is to communicate with a student's home. Some parents may curse you out or call the principal and make a false report about you nagging them."

Another wrote in and said that she tried to present evidence to challenge her unsatisfactory ratings, and was told that 'it wasn't necessary,' because it was going to be in place anyway.

"A lot of us showed up to a meeting, and my principal broke the meeting, telling us there was no point," she said.

A parent also wrote in yesterday, asking if I had any school-by-school percentages, because she was interested in knowing if her student's school was experiencing the PIPs. When I couldn't provide it--the school system declined to provide data, calling it a "shifting number,"--she had one response: "Disturbing."

Below, I've posted the letter sent by the system explaining its take on the angst the PIP situation has caused.

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Categories: Baltimore City

February 8, 2012

Union Leader: City principals also seeing PIP surge

On Wednesday, we ran a story about the stark increase in the number of Baltimore city teachers who received unsatisfactory ratings on their mid-year evaluations, and were consequently placed on Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs).

The plans have caused angst among educators, having historically been used as a precursor for dismissal, and many city educators said they believe the surge reflects that the district has signed onto a union contract it can't afford. 

While the story focused on teachers, I've also learned that this isn't just taking place among city teachers.

Jimmy Gittings, president of the administrators union, said that a large number of principals have also been placed on PIPs.  He said he believes this is part of district strategy to make up for past missteps, and this is a strategy to more easily fire administrators.

“The only reason people are on these PIPs is because since Alonso came, they’ve violated our contract and were firing people without them,” Gittings said. “So what they have done to cover their tracks is put everybody on a damn PIP.”

Gittings said he didn't believe that the rise in the plans reflect the number of principals who need to improve their performance. “It's that now," he said, "if they come across someone they want to fire, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

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Categories: Baltimore City

February 7, 2012

City schools boxing champion wins second national title

What a breath of fresh air I received today in a phone call from the mother of Lorenzo "Truck" Simpson, the City Springs Elementary/Middle school student I wrote about last year after he won the 2011 National Silver Gloves Tournament of Champions in his weight class and age group.

According to his mother, Danica Carroll, Lorenzo took the title again last week at the 2012 championships in Kansas City, Mo.  Lorenzo, now a sixth grader, won the title for the 10-11age group, 100 lbs. She also reported that he is still doing extremely well in school, academically and in his behavior.

Congrats, Lorenzo! 

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Categories: Baltimore City

February 3, 2012

City principal pay below average

Today, I wrote a story about principal pay in the city, which I was surprised to find was below the average for the state, and that of the other large, surrounding districts. The story accompanied a database The Sun has published of all school system employees, which we've also done for every state, city, and Baltimore County school system employees.

The jist of the story is that in the last four years, principals' pay have not caught up to their ever-expanding responsibilities in the city school system. While the story didn't appear to get nearly as much attention as the database, principals have written in that they are surprised by the disparity.

But school system and union leaders have acknowledged that principals--who under immense pressure in the city--are underpaid, and point to the new administrators union contract as a remedy to reward and retain the best leaders, who arguably have one of the hardest jobs in the state.

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Categories: Baltimore City

February 2, 2012

Why we still don't know the real story about Baltimore City school system salaries

Today, The Sun published a database with the salary and overtime for every school system employee--by name and job title--dating back to 2008.  It's part of a series of databases that we will be compiling on public employee pay in the city. So far, we have published the same information for employees who work for the state, the  Baltimore City government, and the Baltimore County School System.More school districts will join the bunch in the coming months.

However, the Baltimore City school system salaries that you see only tell part of the story about how much system employees make--particularly administrators at North Avenue, whose salaries can shift more than school-based personnel. While teachers and principals' pay are reflected in a scale that is published on the Maryland State Department of Education website with every other district, administrative positions are more arbitrary.

I feel compelled to offer a glimpse into a rather tortured journey to transparency in obtaining this information--and why the public still doesn't really know what they're paying the stewards of the city's public education system, and the $1.3 billion budget it takes to run it.

The journey began when The Sun requested the school system's salaries--normally, the most basic public information request you can make, and the most readily available--on Nov. 16. 

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Categories: Baltimore City

February 1, 2012

Updated: Local attorney hopes to bring international perspective to city school board

Updated on February 1: 

A new member has been appointed to the Baltimore city school board, after two searches have taken place in the last year to find someone to replace Anirban Basu, the renowned economist who served as the business-minded board member since 2005.

Marnell Cooper, a Baltimore attorney, will be sworn in Feb. 14. According to his Charles Street law firm's website, Cooper specializes in representing small businesses locally and internationally. 

Updated: I caught up with Cooper on Tuesday, who said that it "is a tremendous honor to be able to serve in this capacity." 

"What I hope to bring to the board is my experience as a person who has been a part of, and a graduate of the school system, and matriculated through two universities to go on to do business around the world. Hopefully I can bring that insight into how to help the students of Baltimore.”

Cooper, who doesn't have children in the city school system, said that he hopes to build on the efforts of the system. He said that he has, however, received feedback from the community about the state of city schools, which he described as, "extremely positive in terms of what they see as growth over the course of years."

As an international attorney, said that he takes particularly interest in strengthening and expanding International Baccalaureate programs, an elite and globally recognized college preparatory program, currently offered at City College and Mount Washington Elementary.

When asked to identify some school system challenges he hopes to help tackle, Cooper said, "I haven't started serving yet, but I know there are some challenges coming up.”

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Categories: Baltimore City

Updated: Alonso's chief of staff withdraws name from superintendent search

Updated: Tisha Edwards, Alonso's chief of staff who traveled to East Baton Rouge last week to interview as a finalist for the parish's superintendent seat, withdrew her name from the running, according to a story published this week in Baton Rouge's newspaper, The Advocate.

Edwards, the mother of a city school graduate and a current student, said Wednesday that she chose to withdraw her name so that her son can finish his middle school education in Baltimore.

Edwards was one of six semi-finalists for the seat, and took part in a public interview before the East Baton Rouge school board on Jan. 23. The EBR parish has held an unusually public search for a new superintendent, devoting an entire website to the search, and posting interviews on You Tube.

You can watch Edwards' interview, during which she is questioned for two hours, and discusses everything from her leadership style, to her efforts and accomplishments in the city, and the reforms she was hoping to bring to the struggling school system.

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Categories: Baltimore City

January 30, 2012

City school, political leaders endorse Obama dropout plan

Baltimore city is used to some radical ideas when it comes to keeping kids in school--a trademark of city schools CEO Andres Alonso--but there is one that I wanted to put out there for debate's sake.

In his State of the Union address last week, President Barack Obama said that his administration would encourage states to raise the compulsory age of attendance to prevent kids from dropping out of school. Under the proposal, children would be require to attend school until the age of 18.

In Maryland, there's been a longstanding attempt to address truancy and dropout rates by raising the compulsory age of attendance, a measure that seems to have always failed due to its financial cost (because the human one is priceless, many would argue).

Still, the issue makes the city school system's legislative wish-list every year, and schools chief Alonso said Monday that he still maintains that, "it makes no sense to tell a kid they can't vote or drive a car but we let them drop out of school."

Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, a Baltimore Democrat who has repeatedly sponsored legislation to raise the state's compulsory age, a cause she plans to continue championing, said Monday she was "really pleased to see the President call on states to take care of our children. We ought to be doing everything we can to keep our students in school."

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Categories: Baltimore City

January 25, 2012

Updated: Alonso's billion-dollar borrowing pitch

Updated on Monday, Jan. 30: One of the biggest questions that emerged from Alonso's recent pitch to allow the school system to borrow billions for school construction, was whether or not Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was on board.

I thought I'd share this story from Friday, when Alonso and the mayor went to talk budgetary matters in Annapolis, where our State House Reporter Michael Dresser asked whether she was on board with the plan.

The mayor, who rolled out a proposal in November that would see a 140% increase in what the City is currently contributing to school construction and renovation, said Friday that the city and the school system were still "ironing out details," on how to fund the massive overhaul of the school system's infrastructure. She added, however, that, "we have the same mutual goal in mind."

According to the story, the mayor remained noncommittal to Alonso's plan to borrow $1.3 billion--six times more the district's borrowing authority-- for the needed improvements. And it's not surprising, since it's a plan that relies on paying off debt with more debt.

And according to the story, the mayor, who has outlined a more limited plan to float $300 million in bonds backed by new city revenues, would not say how close the city and school system are to reaching common ground on an approach.

"It depends on the day of the week it is. Some days we're closer than others," Rawlings-Blake said.

Asked whether Alonso had gone public with his plan too soon when he outlined it Tuesday for the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, the mayor sidestepped the question.

"Dr. Alonso is aggressive when it comes to reforming the school system," she said. "I am not going to second-guess his strategy.

You can read our editorial board's take on Alonso's strategy by clicking here. 

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Categories: Baltimore City

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? 



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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."

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Categories: Baltimore City

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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

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."

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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. 


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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."

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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? 

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Categories: Baltimore City

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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

December 5, 2011

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


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Categories: Baltimore City

November 29, 2011

Johns Hopkins University forum to explore 'Future Directions in Education'

On December 5, Johns Hopkins University will host a forum where three formative voices of the nation's current education debate will sound off on the "Future Directions in Education: What will work best for students?"  The event will be held in the Shriver Hall Auditorium on the university's Homewood campus at 6:30 p.m.

According to the university, panel members will offer differing views on the reform efforts sweeping the country.

Included on the panel are: Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education in the United States Department of Education will discuss the Obama administration’s approach which includes support for new national standards in math and reading, teacher evaluations tied to student performance and charter schools.

Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas Fordham Foundation, a think tank on education issues, and who has offered frank and sometimes scathing commentary on education reforms in Baltimore (including that city teachers put themselves on "the wrong side of history" in voting down the contract last year.)

And lastly, Deborah Meier, an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s approach and co-author of an Education Week blog, Bridging the Difference , with Diane Ravitch.

The Shaping the Future series is free and open to everyone, including our students, alumni, all interested educators, parents, and education advocates. The program includes a presentation by panel members and an opportunity for questions and comments from the audience. For more information or to sign up for the event, visit

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Categories: Baltimore City

November 18, 2011

Annual Baltimore city school choice fair on Saturday

The annual Baltimore city school choice fair will take place this Saturday, Nov. 19 from 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where nearly 6,000 students are expected to visit the stadium's club level to hear schools make their pitch about why they may be students' top choices for the 2012-2013 school year.

The annual choice fair is an opportunity for rising middle and high school students and their  families to preview 64 Baltimore City public middle and high schools--you can see the electronic choice guide here-- meet school staff and students and learn about the unique programs offered at each school.

Following the choice fair tomorrow, schools will host open houses from November 21- December 18, according to the city schools website.

Thursday, Dec. 22 is the application deadline for students to apply for their top three choices. Students will be notified of their placements by March 1.

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Categories: Baltimore City

November 16, 2011

City schools CAO to host parents at The Charles Theater on Thursday

Baltimore city schools Chief Academic Officer Sonja Brookins Santelises will host a "community conversation" Thursday, to discuss the importance of conversation in students' literacy development.

The forum is part of the school system's observance of American Education Week, and will take place Thursday at the Charles Theater, located at 1711 N. Charles Street. It begins at 6 p.m.


Posted by Erica Green at 2:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 15, 2011

City school board denies all charter applications for upcoming school year

A former version of this post incorrectly stated that the deadline to apply for a charter school was Feb. 17. That is the date for students to apply to attend charter schools, not the date for organizations to apply to open charter schools. The Sun regrets this error.

Six charter applicants seeking to open schools in Baltimore city in school years 2012 and 2013 were all denied Tuesday, after the city school board voted to affirm city schools CEO Andres Alonso's decision that the plans for the new schools were insufficient or failed to present a compelling reason to obtain charter status.

The school proposals, which can be viewed here, were presented to the school board on Oct. 11, with organizations making their pitch to offer a variety of programs next school year--including the first all-female elementary school for girls, a new STEM Academy, and a college-preparatory school with an arts curriculum--and a military academy in 2013. Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School failed in its second attempt to convince Alonso and the board that converting to charter status would improve the school's ability to raise achievement.

A seventh school, Green Street Academy, which currently operates as a transformation school (6-12 school with specialized curriculum) withdrew its application to convert to a charter next year.

Alonso said that he made his recommendations based on the recommendations he received from  the district's Charter Schools Advisory Board. The board did not recommend any of the schools for approval, Alonso said.

The sweeping denials was a stark contrast to recent years when charters sprouted up in the district at a rapid pace. Currently, there are 33 charters operating in the city, the most of any district in the state, and that majority of which have opened during Alonso's administration. The schools chief's vision has always been an expanding school portfolio, which is now bursting at the seams, and says that charters remain "engines of reform," in the district.

Alonso said "there were good ideas, a lot of commitment" in this round of applications, but the ability to execute key elements of running a quality school fell short.

"I want to see strong charter applications, so I can approve more charters," Alonso said. "But my vision has been to see great schools, and I want charters to support [that vision.]

Continue reading "City school board denies all charter applications for upcoming school year" »

Posted by Erica Green at 9:07 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

Transform Baltimore praises mayor's bottle tax for facilities, but still seeks more commitment

The coalition of education advocates that is leading the charge to address an estimated $2.8 billion in improvements in city school facilities praised Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's proposal to create a funding stream for the projects by increasing the city's bottle tax.

But the group, Transform Baltimore said in a release Monday-- shortly after Rawlings-Blake announced the plan that you can read about here -- that the mayor's plan to raise additional revenue for school facilities was just a first step.

“The dedicated revenue from the bottle tax can be used to leverage an estimated $155 million in
bonds, as long as it is stable revenue,” said Frank Patinella of the Transform Baltimore campaign, in the statement sent by the group. “The next step will be to use the city and state’s current annual capital budget funds to borrow $1billion now; with that, we will be well on our way toward the full $2.8 billion needed to fix our schools.”

According to our story Monday, "Rawlings-Blake urged the council to act quickly to increase the bottle tax from 2 cents to 5 cents as part of a three-pronged plan that would allow the school system to float more than $300 million in bonds." 

Transform Baltimore had asked the mayor to commit to an alternative financing model that would allow renovation and construction projects to take place at a faster pace and on a larger scale than the city's current funding levels. You can read more about that model here.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Forest Park forfeited JV and Varsity football seasons

I came across this message recently informing that the JV and Varsity football seasons were cancelled at Forest Park High School this fall. 

"Forest Park's Varsity and Junior Varsity football team have forfeited season due to the participation of student's on their roster," the school's website says. "We will continue to support our student's and community as we deal with this unfortunate situation."

I asked city school officials last Friday about this decision (when it was made, how many players were involved, why the entire season was forfeited), and have yet to receive an answer.

I was informed that it was due to ineligible players on the school's team--an issue that educators and parents alike have said is a problem in many high schools in the district.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 14, 2011

City school system orders pants options for female students

I came across an interesting directive from Baltimore city school officials to schools in the district, informing school leaders that they had to offer a pants option for female school uniforms.

Apparently some schools were requiring their female students to wear skirts, a practice that could have been deterring students from choosing certain schools, or going to school at all.

"School uniform policies that do not include an appropriate pants option for female students are considered discriminatory based on gender or sex," the system informed its school leaders. "To ensure we are promoting a positive educational environment for all students, please include an appropriate pants option for any uniform policies that require skirts only for female students." 

Apparently, there were four schools that were requiring girls to wear skirts, and city school officials said that the ACLU of Maryland informed that the practice was discriminatory.

It appears that schools were not intending to discriminate, but promote a dress code they thought would encourage a professional culture in the school. But the school system agreed that culture should also reflect the 21st century.

"Uniform policies are about creating a positive educational environment and preparing students for the world beyond school," said Michael Sarbanes, spokesman for city schools. "Women have many ways of dressing in a professional and dignified way in the world and uniform requirements should reflect that diversity. "

Posted by Erica Green at 10:33 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 11, 2011

Updated: School system addresses alleged rape at school

Updated at 6:11 p.m.

The city school system released the following statement regarding the reported rape in a city school. Baltimore City Public Schools notified Baltimore City Police  that a sex offense (rape) is alleged to have occurred October 4, 2011 at the end of the school day, during an after school program operated by one of the district's community partners. The incident was first reported to the school on October 20, 2011. The school immediately contacted City Schools Police who transported the parent and student to the Baltimore Police Child Abuse Unit to begin the investigation per standard procedures. 

City Schools addresses any allegation of a sexual offense with the utmost seriousness and reports any allegations to Child Protective Services or Baltimore Police Department as appropriate under the circumstances.

 From Crime Reporter Peter Hermann:

A 12-year-old girl at a Baltimore middle school has reported that a teenage boy sexually assaulted her in a classroom last month, according to city police.

Police said the girl told police she was attacked about 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 4 inside Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School, but did not report the incident to police until two weeks later. The school is located in the 1400 block of West Lafayette Ave. in Sandtown-Winchester.

Det. Jeremy Silbert, a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said the case is under investigation and no charges have been filed against the 13-year-old suspect. He said detectives are trying to determine whether the girl was raped or sexually assaulted.

Continued by Ed Reporter Erica Green: 

The victim's mother reached out to both  Fox 45  , who first reported the story, and WBAL TV-11 about the alleged attack. The mother told Fox that the boy was still in school, but she transferred her daughter. According to city school data, obtained by the Baltimore Sun, there were two sexual assaults reported last school year, that resulted in suspension and expulsion. 

The mother told the news stations that her daughter was forced with a box cutter, though police say they had no report of the weapon.

The city school system has not made a statement. 

Posted by Erica Green at 12:50 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 9, 2011

School facilities bill had strong support at the polls

An overwhelming majority of Baltimore city voters cast ballots in favor of a charter amendment that will establish a fund to support school facility improvements, according to unofficial poll figures, and education advocates said Wednesday that they see the vote as a "call to action" from the public.

Transform Baltimore, a group of education advocates and school leaders from around the city that have joined the ACLU of Maryland in calling for a funding solution for the estimated $2.8 billion in improvements needed in city school buildings, celebrated the almost 87 percent of voters who voted in favor of the amendment. 

The charter amendment received the highest overall percentage of votes in the city-wide, contested races, though not the highest raw number of votes. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake received 84 percent of votes.

“The vote sends a clear message that Baltimore citizens support our students’ and teachers’ right to have decent, modern, and well-equipped buildings and that funds need to be allocated for that purpose," said Frank Patinella, of the ACLU and Transform Baltimore campaign, in a release sent by the group Wednesday.

The group held a "Speak Out" event last week, where hundreds of teachers, students and parents  sounded off about the abysmal conditions of their school buildings, which are owned by the city, not the school system.

The Transform Baltimore campaign also met with Rawlings-Blake last week to pitch a funding model that has helped to rapidly modernize and improve school buildings in South Carolina. You can read a letter the group sent on Nov. 2 by clicking here.

One of the drawbacks of the charter amendment is that the mayor's finance team opposed granting the City Council authority to designate taxpayer money to the fund once it was established. The finance department said that granting such a power (the mayor is the only official who can allocate funds) could infringe on future administrations' priorities.

The mayor convened a task force last fall that was due to release a report in April with recommendations for how to address the $2.8 billion need. That report has yet to be released, but the mayor's spokesman said there could be developments in the next two weeks.

Under the charter amendment, the fund can however be endowed with grants and donations, and city officials said that is now where the attention should be focused.

“The overwhelming public support in favor of the charter amendment is proof that we should maintain a laser-like focus toward building state-of-the-art facilities for all of Baltimore’s children,” said Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who authored the charter amendment along with Councilman Jim Kraft. “We now need to turn our attention toward building a fund capable of producing first-class facilities for students.”

Posted by Erica Green at 8:00 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 7, 2011

Baltimore voters can establish school facilities fund today

According to a story by our City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper, voters will have the opportunity to fuel to an increasingly hot topic of the city's dilapidated school buildings on the November 8 ballot. 

An amendment to the city's charter will appear on the ballot on Tuesday, which would establish a fund specifically for renovating and upgrading city-owned school buildings.

The amendment, proposed by City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young earlier this year, is one of several efforts in the last year to garner attention and pressure elected officials to address the estimated $2.8 billion in facilities improvements needed throughout the district.

While Young originally sought to empower the city council to designate taxpayer dollars to the fund, the city's finance department opposed the measure. The fund can be endowed, however, with grants and donations.

The ACLU of Maryland pinpointed the figure in a report released last year, inspiring a series of campaigns throughout the city to fund improvements as fast as possible. Just last week, the ACLU and other education advocates that formed the group "Transform Baltimore" held a "Speak Out" event where groups representing more than 30 schools spoke out about the abysmal conditions of their school buildings.

The event was the first of many efforts the group said will seek to put political pressure on the mayor and elected officials to explore alternative financing models, particularly one that has been used in Greenville, SC that could begin the work ASAP. Read more about that plan here. 

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake convened a task force last fall that was supposed to release a report outlining how the city could tackle the $2.8 billion task. It has yet to be released. Her spokesman told our City Hall reporter in the story that it could be released in the next two weeks. 

Posted by Erica Green at 3:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 2, 2011

Study offers mixed reviews on school closures in urban districts

Urban school districts who look to rolling school closures as a means to save money--much like the logic that city schools CEO Andres Alonso pitched last month--see a very limited cost savings relative to their budgets, have mixed results on academic impact, and can spur major political fallout, a Philadelphia research group has found.

A study published by the Philadelphia Research Initiative last month looks at the pros and cons of consolidation methods in urban school districts, including Philadelphia, which will undergo a series of school closures in the next two years.  A couple of weeks ago, Alonso told The Sun that he will propose to close a slew of schools by 2014 to "right-size the district."

Alonso maintained that not only would the school system be able to save money by vacating school buildings, but also run more efficiently (more than 40 buildings have 250 students or less) and more effectively for its 84,000 students. The schools chief also said that by closing and consolidating schools, the district could devote more money and resources to renovating and upgrading remaining school buildings.

As school officials campaign for billions of dollars to improve the system's infrastructure, Alonso said the district also needed to demonstrate to lawmakers and private funders that the school system is using its current resources as efficiently as possible.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:02 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 31, 2011

Baltimore City school board meeting date changed

The Baltimore City school board has postponed its Nov. 8th board meeting until Nov. 15th because of the general election in the city.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 11:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 12, 2011

Alonso and school board grill charter hopefuls

Seven groups made their pitches to open new charter schools Tuesday, including two existing schools that are seeking to reinvent themselves with more resources and autonomy. From the looks of things, it seems the city school board will be particularly judicious in choosing who will make the cut in November.

Click here to get a full description of the applicants. Among them is a K-8 academy for girls, and a proposed co-ed military academy that is looking to open in 2013. Both were among the few schools that seemed to really capture the attention of the board.

The school board sat through each presentation, extending the meeting to nearly 11 p.m., and peppered each applicant with questions about their motives, credentials, and experience in opening and operating a school.

It was a level of interrogation that is rare for the board , but not surprising given its recent discussions of the board about mitigating the district's bulging school portfolio. About two dozen schools have opened in the district since 2007, and some are floundering due to low enrollment and heightened competition.

The schools who felt the most heat Tuesday were two existing schools seeking charter licenses: the traditional Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School and the Green Street Academy, which opened as a transformation school in 2010. Both schools said they wanted to operate their schools as charters to gain private partnerships and more money.

In his only comments of the evening, city schools CEO Andres Alonso showed a mild disdain for the applicants' notion that the charter label would bring them future prosperity, in finances and the ability to serve their students.

"I have a real problem with schools who only think they can gain that social capital by calling themselves a charter," Alonso said, adding that it was "a bankrupt way of thinking."

Continue reading "Alonso and school board grill charter hopefuls" »

Posted by Erica Green at 3:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 11, 2011

The power of positivity: Dunbar High School receives outpour of support

A story about Dunbar High School's recently resurrected marching band graced the front page this weekend, and it seems to have struck a cord with readers and music lovers across the state, and even some in other parts of the country.

We profiled the effort of the school's band director, Charles Funn, a long-time staple of the school system, who has gathered a group of committed students to try and bring back the glory days, when Dunbar's 185-person marching band rivaled any college band in the country.

The students have no uniforms, they share instruments, and they're still getting used to lifting their legs and instruments at the same time.  But the heart and hope is there. And it was felt far and wide.

Readers wrote in wanting to help the band get back on its feet, others just wrote to say how great it was to see a positive story about a city school in The Sun. My email inbox has been overflowing with messages from those who want to help the band. According to the school's principal Kristina Kyles, Dunbar's phone hasn't stopped ringing since Monday morning.

So, here's information for those who are interested: 

You can call the school at 443-642-4478 and arrange with Kristina Kyles or Charles Funn.  Donations can also be dropped off (or mailed) to the school, located at 1400 Orleans Street. Checks should be made payable to: Dunbar High School Marching Band.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Should Baltimore City do away with SES tutoring services?

We ran a story over the weekend that examined a recent report published by the Abell Foundation, which revealed some questionable practices in how a tutoring program, called Supplemental Educational Services, has been operating in the city for the past decade. Our editorial board weighed in on the story's findings today.

The program, mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act, is free to the poorest and the most academically challenged students in the system. But, it has costs the system more than $55 million in federal funding--about $2,200-$2,500 per-student every year--though the state and city school systems are limited in how much they can regulate the programs and monitor the vendors. State and city officials said that they also cannot substantiate the program's results on student achievement.

Continue reading "Should Baltimore City do away with SES tutoring services?" »

Posted by Erica Green at 5:40 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 5, 2011

National report highlights punitive suspensions of minority students, which are on the rise in Baltimore

A national report released today underscores the widely-known disparity in suspensions of minority students and their non-minority counterparts.

In the report, Maryland is highlighted for its efforts to curb punitive suspensions and expulsions, and Baltimore is highlighted for its effort of significantly reducing its suspension rate in recent years--though the number of suspensions in the district is up this year, including those for "soft offenses" like disrespect and insubordination.

The report, titled “Discipline Policies, Successful Schools, and Racial Justice”  was published by the National Education Policy Center (NPEC), and released in collaboration with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the Dignity in Schools Campaign. Using recent data from the U.S. Department of Education, and data from states that have  like North Carolina, the report's authors conclude that harsh discipline is applied disproportionately to students of color.

The report highlights troubling 2006 data, published last year, collected by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. It shows that more than 28% of black male middle school students had been suspended at least once-- nearly three times the 10% rate for white males;  18% of black females in middle school were suspended, more than four times as often as white females.

Continue reading "National report highlights punitive suspensions of minority students, which are on the rise in Baltimore" »

Posted by Erica Green at 2:42 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 27, 2011

Filipino teacher featured in new documentary blogs goodbye to Baltimore

One of the Filipino teachers featured in 'The Learning,' the documentary about four teachers' journey from their lives in the Philippines to Baltimore city classrooms, is leaving the city school system to take a job in Philadelphia.

In a blog post, Angel Alim-Flores, who started her American teaching career at Harlem Park, shares her decision to leave Baltimore city for a new life in Philadelphia. It appears that it was driven primarily by her faith, and, in part, job and citizenship security.

Here's an excerpt from her post: 

I have gained a lot of skills working in BCPSSS (Harlem Park Middle, Dr.Roland N. Patterson Sr Academy, Pimlico Elementary Middle & North Bend Elementary Middle) and I am so thankful for that. Baltimore molded me to be the tougher teacher that I am today. I will surely take all the good memories with me wherever I go. Their support and care have made me stronger. The kids that I have worked with, the colleagues that have shown me greatness and the administrators that gave me love and covered my backs will always be my part of my life."

Posted by Erica Green at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

Roland Park parents rally behind middle-school recess

This past weekend, we ran a story about a group of Roland Park parents advocating for recess for their middle school students.

While recess in elementary school is pretty standard, it's less common in middle schools--not just in Baltimore, but in neighboring districts as well. City school officials said that 53 of its 88 schools with middle grades offer some form of recess, while 86 percent of its elementary schools do. Still, parents say that it's essential to their students academic and sociological development.

It was quite an experience reporting the story, with only a few parents willing to go on the record about what has become a particularly charged issue in the school's community. And it has sparked quite a debate in the district and from our readers.

Here is a Letter to the Editor , titled "Roland Park is no academic sweatshop" from the school's PTA President that we ran today. Another reader, also a middle-school teacher,  from Rochester wrote in today to weigh in on the issue.

My reporting found that the parents desire for more recreational relief from the school's stringent academic model is running up against the schools budget and staff realities. But, it is hoped that the school can come up with a compromise and serve as a model for the rest of the district as schools try to juggle the demands of a well-rounded education.


Posted by Erica Green at 11:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 20, 2011

Updated: 'The Learning' makes national debut Sept. 20

The Learning has its national broadcast premiere on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011 at 10 p.m. on POV (Point of View) on PBS. (Baltimore broadcast: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 10:30 PM on MPT-2). The film will stream in its entirety on the POV website, Sept. 21 - Oct. 21. The Learning has been selected as part of The Economist Film Project, which presents documentaries in partnership with PBS NewsHour.

Click this link for the website, where the film will be streaming.

For those interested, here is a transcript transcript of a live chat on 'The Learning,' which took place last week after a PBS screening of the film.

Among the panelists were: Baltimore filmmaker Ramona Diaz, who directed the film; Sara Neufeld, former Baltimore Sun reporter, whose coverage of the Filipino teacher recruitment inspired the film; Erica Green, covering the current state of the Filipino teaching community; and Anthony Japzon, president of the Filipino Educators of Maryland.

'The Learning,' is a documentary that follows four Filipino women as they leave their lives behind to find the American dream-- teaching in Baltimore city schools. The four teachers represent a time early in the decade when the city struggled to hire highly qualified teachers to teach math, science and special education, and the city joined districts across the nation in hiring from abroad.

Though the recruitment--which as we have reported has recently come under scrutiny--has ceased in Baltimore city, Filipino teachers account for roughly 10 percent of the city's 6,000 teachers. As we've also reported recently, many Filipino teachers face an uncertain future in the district, as it struggles to show the need for them as the job market tightens for American teachers.

In the film (I've seen a screening) Diaz captures the good, the bad and the raw aspects of the teachers' lives, in and outside of the classroom. Featured in the film are teachers' experiences at Harlem Park, Renaissance Academy, Lockerman-Bundy and Polytechnic Institute.


Posted by Erica Green at 11:19 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

Third graders show purple pride with poem

If you're still reeling from the Ravens lost this weekend, I thought this might lighten you up. A third-grade creative writing class at Alexander Hamilton Elementary School in West Baltimore wrote this poem after the Ravens dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers in their opening game.

The students' teacher, Phallon Perry, passed this along this week to showcase her students' work and to promote writing in schools.

Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore city Ravens are the BEST

The Ravens are better than the REST

Their colors are Purple and BLACK

They gave the Steelers a SMACK

Ray Lewis tackles HARD

The Ravens stomped the YARD

The Ravens are a winning TEAM

They are the best you've ever SEEN

Posted by Erica Green at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 13, 2011

Report sheds light on college enrollment trends for city school graduates

This week we reported a finding about the city's college enrollment trends, highlighted in a new report by the Baltimore Education Research Consortium,  which provided the most comprehensive tracking to date of how many Baltimore city students head to college after they graduate, what kinds of programs they are enrolling in, and the percentage of students who end up earning a degree.

In a story Monday, we highlighted one of the trends that I found drew the most attention in my reporting: more Baltimore city students are enrolling in two-year-colleges, reversing a long-standing trend of city school graduates primarily enrolling in four-year-universities.

The report concluded that this should be an area of concern for the school system, because research shows that city students who have enrolled in two-year-colleges have been far less likely to complete college, and the numbers, which you can find in the story or report, are jarring.

Researchers began with the class of 2004, tracking its college enrollment and degree completion rates through 2010. Of all city schools graduates from the Class of 2004 who ever enrolled in college, 23% earned either a 2-year or 4-year degree within six years.

While city school officials called the report a "wake-up call," officials at local colleges said the report failed to take into account the circumstances that make them the ideal and most practical choice for Baltimore city students who want a college career--particularly in this economic climate.

I would encourage readers to take a look at the actual report. It's full of interesting information--I could write dozens of stories from it--broken down in different ways (i.e. charter vs. traditional vs. transformation vs. entrance criteria school graduate college completion rates, the selectivity of the schools that each group is enrolling in, etc.)

Weigh in on what you find most interesting. 

Some other highlights from the report are listed below, (from the BERC):

Continue reading "Report sheds light on college enrollment trends for city school graduates" »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:39 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 1, 2011

Catholic school helps city school welcome more students this year

A Baltimore city Catholic school stepped up to provide 100 desks and chairs to the Holabird Academy, a school that was once slated to be closed but is slowly getting back on its feet--or seat

The St. William of York Catholic Church in Baltimore, donated 100 desks and chairs from the former parish school to Holabird Academy.

According to a letter of thanks from Brown Advisory, a local investment firm that has been working with the struggling school since 2007, the donation represents a new phase at the school.

"Holabird’s previous placement on the City’s list of schools to be closed left them with a facility, programs and grounds that had seen little, if any, regular maintenance, let alone improvements," wrote Barbara Baines.

" Holabird has gone from the brink of closing to a real City success story.  In doing so, of course, their enrollment soared, which led to the need for 100 new desks and chairs."

Community help is still sought to outfit students for the new school year. The school system saw a surge in request from families for school uniform vouchers. Hundreds of students remain on the list.

Posted by Erica Green at 7:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

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

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 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,, 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.

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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.  

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Categories: Baltimore City

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:

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Categories: Baltimore City

August 3, 2011

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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

July 29, 2011

Alonso names new member, new role in cabinet

Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso named earlier this week a new member to his cabinet, and the promotion of one of his current executives to a new role.

Jonathan Brice, who has led the school system's Office of Student Support and Safety for three years , will become the head of the the school support networks. Brice will oversee the network teams, which will expand significantly this year.

According to a release from the school system, Brice will, "supervise the integrated network teams
that will provide schools with support in the areas of instructional and academic content, special education, student support, parent and community engagement, human capital, budget and procurement, data analysis, grants management, transportation and facilities. Brice will also be responsible for ensuring that City Schools’ guidance documents support and advance the district’s overall strategy and for developing clear protocols to balance school autonomy and district requirements."

A replacement for Brice in the critical student support and safety office, which deals with all things related to student life (dropouts, support programs, etc.),has not yet been named.

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Categories: Baltimore City

July 19, 2011

Longtime city music teacher killed

A Baltimore city music teacher of 38 years was killed Monday after his van was struck by a stolen car in Northwest Baltimore, according to a story we wrote Tuesday.

Wendell Hairston, 60, most recently taught music at Southside Academy, but taught in various public schools, including Winston Middle School, Dr. Nathan A. Pitts-Ashburton Elementary/Middle School. 

According to our story, a 2006 Sun article identified Hairston as the director of a jazz group called The Winston Band, made up of students who graduated from Winston Middle School, which closed last year. Edie House-Foster, city schools spokeswoman, recalled how the jazz group was popular throughout the city.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:25 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 14, 2011

Rolley blasts mayor on late school facilities report

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley challenged Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake this week about when  her report on how to fund school facility improvements--which is five months late--will be released.

In a release sent Tuesday, Rolley cited an article I wrote exactly one month ago, in which the mayor's spokesman was quoted saying the report, originally due out in February, would be out in June.

"As bizarre as it was that she proclaimed we had to ‘stick with what works’ even as new test scores revealed our schools are falling further behind, what is simply outrageous is that she simply has not kept her word to release a plan to address our schools’ crumbling infrastructure,” said Otis today.  “Last year she said she’d have it by February, then it slipped to the end of June, and now it’s July with no plan.  Where is it?”

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Categories: Baltimore City

July 11, 2011

City school official tapped to advise Chicago superintendent

Our flagship paper The Chicago Tribune reported today that Jonathan Brice, who oversees the Office of Student Support and Safety for the Baltimore city school system, has been tapped to advise the Chicago Public School system as it transitions under its new leader, Jean-Claude Brizard.

Brice will be sitting on a panel of educators from across the nation that will advise Brizard and his team on "how best to deploy teachers and resources," the Tribune story said.

While the team, led by a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, will be particularly focusing on what's happening around instruction in CPS, Brice apparently will be advising on issues related to school climate, student engagement and anti-violence initiatives like Culture of Calm, the story said.

"We'll look at the early results and see if it's working for schools and how we should expand it," Brice told The Tribune. "If it's something that's not working, then what are the tweaks that need to be made."

Posted by Erica Green at 2:15 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 6, 2011

If Alonso went on a "listening tour," what would he learn?

Earlier this week we ran a story where education policy experts and city school advocates weighed in on how the Baltimore school system can rebound from its MSA disappointment, and the series of cheating scandals that darkened the cloud surrounding students' backslide in achievement.  

One of the most compelling interviews in the story was from Jack Jennings, of the Center on Education Policy, a non-partisan, national group. Jennings was an independent voice having only observed the tenure of city schools CEO Andres Alonso from afar, and within the context of the recent movement of self-proclaimed, radical education reformers.  

Jennings said that the CEO, "had been a ball of energy in the last four years, and he might want to go steadier this time around," as Alonso transitions into a new, four-year commitment. Jennings said that the setbacks the district has noted may be a result of, "him being tired and school administrators being tired — of constant pressure, constant change and constant turmoil."

Jennings also suggested something that I thought was interesting. He encouraged Alonso go on a "listening tour," to hear from educators, what is and isn't working in the district. If Alonso did go on such a tour--what do you think he'd learn?

Posted by Erica Green at 11:00 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Baltimore City

July 1, 2011

City schools' parent advisory group: We must continue to support our children

The Parent Community Advisory Board (PCAB) released the following statement about this year's MSA scores. 


We Must Continue to Support our Children

The Parent and Community Advisory Board serves to advise the CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools and the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners regarding ways in which parents, families, the community and educators can best collaborate to help our children succeed.

In that capacity, we are writing to express our confidence in the students of Baltimore City Public School System and do not want them labeled as cheaters throughout the State of Maryland and beyond.

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Categories: Baltimore City

Alonso finally inks commitment to stay in Baltimore

After nearly a year's wait and several rumored departures, the ink is dry and city schools Andres Alonso has committed to staying in the district under a new, four-year-contract.

If he stays through 2015, Alonso will be the longest serving superintendent since 1946. Baltimore has not had a good track record of retaining leadership in the district, and Alonso is undoubtedly a high-profile leader who could have chosen to go anywhere in the country (Believe me, I checked).

Still, he has much to prove in this next stretch--coming off of a year of declining achievement (if you choose to base such conclusions on one test), and a flurry of cheating scandals that has naturally (even if unfairly) raised doubts.

In a story we have coming Monday, local education advocates and experts weigh in on what's next for the school system under the CEO. Some suggest that he will need to reassess his trademark policies to make sure they're fulfilling their purposes. Other suggest that maybe he jog this next round--as opposed to sprint--to be more effective.

What do you expect to see in the next phase of the CEO's tenure? And more importantly, what do you think will make it a successful one for Baltimore city students?

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

June 30, 2011

MSA scores disappoint the city

The results of Maryland School Assessments were released on Wednesday, and the city was among one of the only districts in the state to note decreases--and some of them were steep, placing 45 city schools in the bottom 50 performers in the state.

It was the first setback the city has noted in quite some time, particularly under city schools CEO Andres Alonso. Alonso said, however, that the losses should not overshadow the progress city students have made over time (leaps and bounds when compared to 2004, when the MSAs were first administered). Still, while the state's scores steadily climbed (even by a little), the city's didn't.

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 29, 2011

Amid falling test scores, Alonso intends to renew contract

Baltimore city schools CEO Andres Alonso said this week that he intends to sign a new contract, which expires Thursday, even amid test results showing that the city's Maryland School Assessment scores took their first significant dive under his tenure.  Read about the state and city's MSA results  here.

While Alonso did not say when he would sign his contract, he alluded to what he said back in 2007 when he first came to the city about his likely commitment to Baltimore.

“I said on day one that I need to be here for 10 years for it to change—and I have stuck to my word, and continue to stick to my word," Alonso told The Sun . "If it were easy, I would be someplace else already. The reason why it takes focused leadership over time is because it is not easy.”

The city noted a 5 percentage point decrease in math, and a 3 percentage point decrease in reading on the 2011 Maryland School Assessments, according to data released Wednesday. A deeper analysis by The Sun, showed stark plummets in a variety of data sets. We will be releasing those details tomorrow.

“Quite frankly, this makes it far more important—it’s personal—so, there’s no way I’d go anywhere else," Alonso said of the MSA results. The CEO said that there was "no way, I step away from the fight. So, you have to deal with me for four years or until I get fired.”

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 27, 2011

Baltimore Teachers Union denounces new state evaluation system

The Baltimore Teachers Union has publicly denounced the new Maryland teacher evaluation system as "yet another misguided example of an obsession with test scores," in a statement released Monday from BTU President Marietta English.

Last week, my colleague Liz Bowie reported  that the Maryland Council for Educator Effectiveness, appointed by the governor last year to develop a new teacher and principal evaluation system, approved an evaluation framework in which 50 percent of a teacher's job rating will be based on student performance. Of the 50 percent, 20 percent will be decided by the local system.

The new evaluation system will be piloted in seven districts, including Baltimore city and Baltimore County, in the fall. It will coincide with the implementation of critical elements of the BTU contract that introduces a new career and pay ladder in the district. Teachers will navigate their way up the new pay and promotion system based, in part, on satisfactory evaluations.

In addition to state and district leaders from around the state--including city schools CEO Andres Alonso--teachers also sat on the panel. All of the teachers voted against the new system.

Alonso said in the story last week that while he thought the new evaluation system was flawed, "Overall, I think this has been a hard process, but on most elements we have gotten to a consensus." He also said he liked the flexibility given to districts and is comfortable with the model.

English said the fact that all of the teachers on the panel voted against the new evaluation system spoke volumes about how it would be embraced in the district.

She said that the framework "does little to ensure better instruction or learning, and reflects little of the teacher input or collaboration that has brought so much success to Baltimore over the past five years."  She also said that deeming a teacher "unsatisfactory" if students don't make predicted gains "is ineffective because it's punitive."

Read below for English's full statement:

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 25, 2011

Alonso on cheating schools: There will be more

Baltimore city schools Andres Alonso said last week that while the school district has gone to great lengths to tighten testing security, he anticipates coming before the city again to announce that more schools attempted to game the system.

There are two more investigations pending, from a batch of four schools referred to the state last year.  The 2011 Maryland School Assessments will be released next week.

In a news conference last week, Alonso told reporters that it may take one or two more years before cheating is eradicated from the system. He vowed, however, that at some point, "we will emerge from this conversation--it may take one or two years--but we will emerge with our heads held high."

He also indicated that Maryland's new teacher evaluation system, which is partly based on student progress, will spur a "perverse incentive to do something wrong." Baltimore is one of seven districts that will pilot the new state evaluation system in the fall.

Alonso said the incentive could be stronger in the city, where teachers passed a contract last fall tying their salaries to performance evaluations.

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Categories: Baltimore City

City embraces transparency in recent cheating revelations

When we broke the news Thursday that two more Baltimore city schools cheated on state assessments, the response was notably different than when the district announced last year that George Washington Elementary, a national Blue Ribbon school, had cheated.

The level of cheating was arguably more egregious this time around--it included a gamut of violations and attendance tampering--but it seemed that the school system mitigated the fallout in the very public way it went about acknowledging the scandals at Abbottston and Fort Worthington elementary schools.

The Sun, which had been following the investigations for the last year, broke the story on Thursday morning after learning that the announcement was coming. City schools CEO Andres Alonso and State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, held a news conference Thursday afternoon where they released even more details about the investigations and publicly denounced the cheating.

The Sun's editorial board joined many education stakeholders in the city in concluding that  "Evidence of integrity, not widespread problems" was the moral of the story this time around.

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 23, 2011

Updated: Former leaders of cheating schools have high-profile connections

Updated on 6/25: On Thursday, Jimmy Gittings, president of the city's administrator's union, gave remarks after the district's announcement about the cheating found at Abbottston and Ft. Worthington elementary schools.

Gittings defended Abbottston's former principal, Angela Faltz. He said he had proof that she did not engage in the cheating, but couldn't provide it because it is part of litigation. Attempts to reach Faltz were unsuccessful.

"I will not sit back and have her name dragged through the mud the way it was today in The Sun paper" Gittings said Thursday, referencing the article breaking the cheating story. 

District and state officials would not comment specifically on the principals or personnel actions, but the Sun independently verified who was leading the two schools at the time the cheating was found to have taken place. The Sun also reported last July that the school was being investigated and that Faltz had been removed pending the outcome. Gittings defended Faltz in that article as well.

Gittings said that during the past year, "Angie held her head high because she knew she had done nothing wrong."

The precedent of holding principals responsible for cheating at a school concerned him "immensely," he said, adding that there are "certain things that principals cannot control." He called Faltz a "strong lady,"who is innocent of any wrongdoing, though district officials did not indicate that the principals were involved in the cheating.

He said the ultimate goal of the administrators' union and its legal team is to place Faltz back in a school. Gittings said last year that Faltz had "devoted her life to the school" for about 11 years.

Gittings said he could not speak for Shaylin Todd, who led Ft. Worthington during the time of the found cheating, because she was no longer an administrator in the system.  He also said he could not speak for Susan Burgess, who was immediately stripped of her license, when cheating was found at George Washington Elementary in 2008.

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Categories: Baltimore City

Sun Exclusive: More cheating uncovered in city schools

Today, we broke a story revealing that an egregious level of cheating had taken place during state assessment testing at two city schools, and one of the schools even went further in fudging attendance records to make annual progress goals mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Officials also said that two more cheating investigations are pending, but declined to name the schools.

Abbottston Elementary School and Fort Worthington Elementary School were found to have cheated on the 2009 Maryland School Assessments, city schools CEO and State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick are scheduled to announce in a news conference Thursday. A state investigation found that Ft. Worthington also cheated in 2010, and someone at the school changed attendance records to meet the full criteria of adequate yearly progress, or the infamous "AYP."

The Sun had been following the investigation of these schools since last summer when sources informed us that there was a gamut of cheating taking place at both schools. The state also confirmed last July that it was investigating Abbottston for plummeting test scores.

And the bombshell kicks off a series of critical milestones for the system: Alonso's current contract expires next Thursday, and he has yet to sign a new one; and next week, the 2011 MSA's will be released.

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 13, 2011

Updated: Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley says city schools progress is 'not enough'

Baltimore city mayoral candidate Otis Rolley unveiled a new education plan Monday, that he describes as "radical" and "aggressive," in seeking mayoral control of the city school system, and private and parochial school vouchers.

Rolley, who has a third grader at Roland Park Elementary School, held a news conference announcing all of the details of the plan in front of city school headquarters. He also gave an exclusive peek of his education platform to City Hall Reporter Julie Scharper this weekend.

In the news conference, Rolley said his platform included closing five of the worst-performing middle schools in the city and providing families with a $10,000 voucher--which would come out of the school system's budget-- to send their children to parochial and private schools.

Also included in the plan, would be to shift the school system back to mayoral control, which Rolley said would draw a clear line of accountability to the mayor and quell frustration among city residents about who to hold responsible for the school system's failures.

The school system would be directly operated by a mayoral appointed seven-member school board and a schools CEO, all of whom would have to be confirmed by the city council. When I asked what qualities he would seek in a CEO, Rolley said, "it's not about's about progress."He clarified, however, that his plan did not mean he would looking for a new one. 

Rolley said that while his ideas may be controversial, the critics are supporting a system that "is not doing enough for our students." He said that while the school system has made progress, "it's not enough--we are moving too slowly."

To read Rolley's entire education plan, click here

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 12, 2011

City school system, Filipino teachers facing immigration challenges

On Sunday, we ran a story that explored some of the challenges the city school system says it is having in retaining hundreds of Filipino teachers--whose three-or-six year work visas are expiring--as so many American teachers are looking for jobs in the district.

Federal immigration laws require the district to show a need for the teachers before it can apply to renew work visas, or help its international teacher secure permanent residency. The laws governing H1-B work visas, utilized by the majority of Filipino teachers in the district, prohibit retaining international workers if Americans can fill the same jobs.

"We're in a tough position now because we're currently operating with more applicants than we have positions," said Tisha Edwards, chief of staff for the school system.As we've reported before, the city has a sizable surplus teacher pool (about 700 city educators attended a job fair last month.

Meanwhile, the district has vowed to "exhaust all legal strategies" to keep international teachers in the U.S.--even calling around to other districts to find vacancies they could potentially fill. In total, more than 300 Filipino teachers are facing a crucial deadline that will determine whether or not they will remain in the United States, let alone a city classroom, next year.

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 8, 2011

City school system to finally answer questions surrounding international teachers

On April 5, our reporters and editorial board asked the Baltimore school system to explain its hiring practices for international teachers. We were planning a story after news broke that the Prince George's County School System was fined millions by the Department of Labor for not paying its Filipino teachers' visa fees. After waiting all day for an answer, the school system responded at about 8 p.m. telling us that they "were looking into the matter."

We went with a story that explained how Baltimore, in fact, did have the same hiring practices as Prince George's County, which include sending staff over to the Phillipines on first-class trips to recruit teachers. The teachers pay between $8,000 and $10,000 to come here, including their own visa fees, we learned. All of our sources said this was common knowledge.

In the wake of that story, we asked the questions again to follow up on the story.

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 7, 2011

Hundreds of city teachers await word of school placements

Hundreds of Baltimore city teachers are awaiting word of whether or not they will set foot in a classroom next year.  

On Monday, we ran a story that explained some of the back story of how teachers come to be displaced. The story also explored some of the concerns of the Baltimore Teachers Union regarding the current climate for veteran teachers in the district. "Age discrimination" was referenced, which the district disputed.

A veteran teacher from Patterson High School went out on a limb to share her experience, from receiving an email informing her that she (and 43 others) would not be returning to the school next year, to attending a job fair that resembled "an auction in a sweatshop," according to one school leader who attended.

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Categories: Baltimore City

June 1, 2011

Updated: Garrison Middle School student found

Updated: Police reported late Wednesday night that the student was home safe with her family. 


According to a story Wednesday, a Garrison Middle School student went missing after she got off of the bus this morning. Here is what police told Sun Reporter Liz Kay about the missing girl.

"A 12-year-old girl who was last seen getting off a bus Tuesday near Mondawmin Mall has been reported missing, according to Baltimore police.

Georgia Solomon, a sixth-grader at Garrison Middle School, got off a Maryland Transit Administration route No. 91 bus at the corner of Liberty Heights Avenue and Garrison Road about 7:20 a.m. Tuesday, police said. She was headed to the mall, about a mile and a half away, according to police spokesman Detective Kevin Brown.

The girl, described as 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighing about 135 pounds, had styled her hair in cornrows and was wearing dark-framed glasses, her school uniform — khaki pants and a white, polo shirt — and gray Nike sneakers, police said."
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Categories: Baltimore City

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.

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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:

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Categories: Baltimore City

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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

May 26, 2011

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.

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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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

May 17, 2011

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:

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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.

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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

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.

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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:

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Categories: Baltimore City

May 12, 2011

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.”

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Categories: Baltimore City

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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

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.

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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.

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Categories: Baltimore City

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

April 30, 2011

A call for city school budget scenarios

Friday was the deadline for city school principals to submit their budgets, and we hear that this year, schools were hit unlike any other time in recent history. I've heard school budgets lost figures ranging from $500,000 to $1 million. Sources have reported that programs are being cut, salary costs are skyrocketing and resources are plummeting.

The school system budget is due to be unveiled on May 10, and before we begin dissecting that, we'd like to hear about how individual schools fared this budget season.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:10 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 29, 2011

Western High School college applications compromised

On Friday, Baltimore city school officials confirmed that a handful of college admissions for Western High School students may have been compromised due to missing paperwork that should have been sent by the school. You can read the story here.

We'd asked the district about this last week, and it appears that the number of students that were affected has decreased over time. Some students originally believed to have not been admitted into college based on a misstep, eventually were while the district was still investigating.  Now, about 14 students, from one of the most prestigious high schools in the city, could not be going to the college of their choice next year.

Update: Thanks @avalon for being a junior editor :-)

Posted by Erica Green at 8:06 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

Second school official in two years resigns amid investigation of resume claims

A Baltimore Sun investigation revealed Thursday night that Kevin Seawright, the deputy chief operating officer for the city school system, was holding a $135,000 position--and two degrees from online universities that are considered "diploma mills." His undergraduate degree was obtained from a online university that no longer exists, and his master's from a university that awards degrees based on "life experience."

On Wednesday afternoon, I began calling sources around the nation and even the United Kingdom to check into an anonymous tip that Seawright's degrees could be questionable. We also asked the school system to verify his credentials and explain how they qualified him to manage one of the largest departments in the system.

According to our City Hall reporter, Seawright is also a public supporter of mayoral candidate Otis Rolley--which has raised questions about whether the tip was politically motivated. Either way, it checked out.

By Thursday afternoon--as I was putting the final touches on our research and story, and awaiting the district's response--I was informed that Seawright had resigned.

It all transpired very quickly. But, it's also familiar territory for the school system. 

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Categories: Baltimore City

April 27, 2011

City hopes to bring back 1,000 students by June

The Baltimore city school system is hoping to bring back roughly 1,000 students who they say have withdrawn from city schools so far this year. We'd heard last week that about 1,010 students had dropped out of high schools since September, but city school officials said that wasn't the most accurate description--yet.

"We have roughly 1000 withdrawals coded in our system as of now," city schools CEO Andres Alonso said in a statement. "These are not considered dropouts until the data cleansing process has ended and we can certify numbers at the end of June. 

"Our high school population is fluid, and many students withdraw and then return. Last year as of this time we had more kids coded as withdrawn than today, and more than eventually were coded as dropouts.  Our job is to reach out to each of these kids and make sure that they have in fact withdrawn from any school, and then offer them choices. 

"To say 1010 kids dropped out of school would be inaccurate," Alonso said. "We have been using the number in conversations with principals and guidance counselors to dramatize the importance of reaching out to every one of these kids who are showing as withdrawals."

The school system said that the next "Great Kids Come Back" campaign will target these students. At 4 percent, the city's dropout rate is now half what it was three years ago.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:36 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 25, 2011

Should parents go to jail when students don't go to school?

Today we ran a story about the 400-plus Baltimore city parents who have been cited for failing to send their children to school, even profiling a mother who was sentenced to jail because her son had missed 103 of 130 days. About one dozen parents have gone to jail time for the misdemeanor this year.

The story spurred a debate about whether or not parents should be held responsible for their childrens' truancy, particularly when the student is at the age (in this mother's case 15 years old) to make decisions for themselves.  I'm interested to hear what our education communities think.  

Posted by Erica Green at 5:10 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 20, 2011

City students make big moves in national chess tournament

Baltimore city students returned to the district this week with 13 trophies from the National K-9 Chess Championships, held April 15 to 17 in Columbus, Ohio.

According to a release from the school system, teams from four schools captured 13 trophies—and the best individual standings ever recorded for Baltimore Kids Chess League players. Playing in the K–8 Under 750 section, the Cross Country Elementary/Middle team--which notably has three girls and one boy in a usually male-dominated world of national tournament play--finished second out of 34 teams from across the country.   

Team members Morgan Brown and Sydnee Campbell also had top-ten individual rankings in the Under 750 group of 224 players—finishing at sixth and ninth, respectively. Morgan went undefeated in the tournament, with five wins and two draws.

In the even more challenging Under 1000 section, Cross Country player Joseph Grant finished third of 167—the first Baltimore City Public Schools student to earn a top-three ranking nationwide. The Cross Country team finished tenth of 30, despite being short one player.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:51 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 19, 2011

Baltimore to lose more than 330 of its most experienced teachers to buyout

Just 18 takers shy of the number of teachers needed to offer an early retirement incentive, the Baltimore city school system said it was confident that it would move forward with the deal, that could save at least $5 million next year.

The school system said in a story that ran today that 332 teachers with more than 10 years experience opted to take the deal, which offered 75 percent of their currently salary paid out over five years into a city school investment account. The school system was hoping to get 350 teachers to take the early retirement incentive plan (ERIP), but no more than 750.

City school officials said until the final numbers are in--teachers have seven days to change their minds--they won't know the budget impact, or have a breakdown of the group (level of experience, what schools they left, subjects taught).

An interesting development in the story was that Jimmy Gittings, president of the principal's union, said he hoped a similar deal could be offered to city administrators.

We'd heard that there were standing-room-only meetings taking place across the district since the ERIP for teachers was announced in February. Interest was high, but the number of those who committed seemed low (about 3,200 teachers were eligible). 

Any thoughts? 

Posted by Erica Green at 9:42 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 18, 2011

Alonso is not the next Chicago schools chief

It seems that despite some serious speculation, city schools CEO Andres Alonso is not heading to the Midwest to take the helm of Chicago Public Schools. According to the Chicago Tribune, Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel name Jean-Claude Brizard, from Rochester, N.Y., as the new leader of Chicago's school system at a news conference this morning.

Alonso's name had consistently come up in media reports about who Emanuel would tap to head up Chicago's long-beleaguered school system. Out of every city that was rumored to have Alonso on its radar, or vice versa, Chicago made the most sense. And, frankly, the idea of Chicago as a possible contender--Alonso has not announced whether he will renew his contract in Baltimore--made a lot of people in Baltimore's education circles squirm. Alonso's style was said to be a perfect match for Emanuel's job description, though some questioned whether the city was big enough for both personalities.

So, we can cross that one off the list. On to the next rumored city...

Alonso's current contract expires on June 30.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:22 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City

City school system to seek private funding for public school improvemements

We wrote a story Monday about how the new Baltimore Design School, due to open this fall, will move into a historic building in the Station North district in 2013.

The deal for the old, Lebow Clothing Factory came by way of public-private funding and what some have called high-profile advocates (the school was founded by MICA President, Fred Lazarus and Sen. Catherine Pugh).

The creative finance model used to buy the Lebow building--which included funding from developers and private bonds--was praised by city school leaders as a model that should be replicated across the district.

The school system signed on to a $1.7 million annual lease for the building--an investment that some city school board members believed should have been made in multiple schools.

City schools CEO Andres Alonso said that he'd like to explore more private funding options, much like the Lebow financing, to help fix the city's dilapidated school buildings. The capital improvement budget alone cannot support the massive, multi-billion dollar overhaul of school facilities, he said.

The school system will begin a $1.4 million assessment of all of its buildings, which will yield a detailed list of improvements for each city school. Those reports would then be shopped around to potential funders in the private sector, who may want to take up a project or two. 

Posted by Erica Green at 10:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 14, 2011

Baltimore city seeking school board members

Three positions--two of which can be reappointments--are open on the Baltimore city school board. The Maryland Department of Education has announced that the recruitment process has begun for those interested in applying. For more information on how to apply, click here.

Posted by Erica Green at 10:30 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 13, 2011

Maryland Film Festival to feature documentary on journey of Filipino teachers in Baltimore

On the lineup for the Maryland Film Festival  next month is an interesting documentary called "The Learning" that follows Filipino teachers on their journey as they leave their native hometowns to come teach in Baltimore city schools.

This should be a provocative and evocative look into a phenomenon that has taken place across America and right here in Baltimore--there are more than 600 Filipino teachers in the city--with the hiring boom of Filipino teachers over the past decade to fill positions that require highly qualified teachers. The film's synopsis is: (You can check out the film's Facebook and PBS pages.)

"One hundred years ago, American teachers established the English-speaking public school system of the Philippines. Now, in a striking turnabout, American schools are recruiting Filipino teachers. The Learning is the story of four Filipino women who reluctantly leave their families and schools to teach in Baltimore. With their increased salaries, they hope to transform their families’ lives back in their impoverished country. But the women also bring idealistic visions of the teacher’s craft and of life in America, which soon collide with Baltimore’s tough realities."

Here in Baltimore, we've documented over the years what has often been stories detailing the victimization of Filipino teachers. The most recent story was just last week where we found that the district was using the same practices in hiring Filipino teachers as Prince George's County, which was recently ordered to pay more than $4 million in reimbursement fees to its teachers for work visas and nearly $2 million labor violation penalties.

I look forward to this documentary telling another part of the story.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:47 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 12, 2011

Artwork by city students on display at Walters Art Museum

From city schools partner Arts Every Day:  

Arts Every Day, the nonprofit organization that connects Baltimore City School teachers, administrators and students with local cultural organizations and working artists, will display artwork by students from 20 of its partnering elementary and middle schools at a special exhibit at The Walters Art Museum from April 13 through Sunday, April 17. 

The exhibit, sponsored by Arts Every Day, Baltimore City Public Schools, and The Walters Art Museum will showcase students’ arts integrated creations inspired by the Walters' exhibits or works of art seen during school field trips or interactive classroom lessons using the Walter's website.

On the final day of the Show, Sunday, April 17, students will give vocal and instrumental performances at a reception hosted by the Walters from 1 - 3pm; the reception is open to the public.

The Walters Art Museum is located at 600 North Charles Street in Baltimore, Maryland.  Museum hours are 10am to 5pm, Wednesday through Sunday. For more information on the exhibition and Arts Every Day, visit

Posted by Erica Green at 3:55 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore's state funding restored with alcohol tax, budget hearing scheduled for Wednesday

The Baltimore city school system will receive its full state funding and some additional money for facilities, due to a last minute development Monday night before the closing of the 2011 legislative session. The city school system was facing a more than $17 million cut in the state's proposed fiscal 2012 budget. The impact was said to be devastating to schools in the city because they would have to absorb the cut. The district had already announced other cost-saving measures, including another reorganization that would trim central office staff and an early retirement plan that would seek to buyout about 750 of the city's most experienced teachers.

Not everyone may be toasting to the funding restoration, however. The crisis was averted by an alcohol tax that will rise to 9 percent from 6 percent on July 1, according to our Annapolis reporters. You can read more of our comprehensive end-of-session coverage, which includes other major education developments, in today's Sun.

The state's restoration of funds was a win for city schools as it continues the throes of budget planning with (the last I heard) a $48 million deficit, down from $70 million two months ago.  The city school system will hold a public forum to receive recommendations for its its fiscal 2012 budget at City school headquarters (200 E. North Ave.), Wednesday at 5 p.m. The public will have an opportunity to weigh in. The final budget is due to be released on May 10.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:56 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 11, 2011

New contract for BTU paraeducators and professional staff

About 3,000 paraeducators and other professional staff represented by the Baltimore Teachers Union will receive pay raises and more vacation time under a tentative deal struck by the union and city school system.
The union’s announced Monday Paraprofessionals and School Related Personnel (PRSP) chapter of the BTU—which includes teacher's aides, classroom assistants, accountants, secretaries, and office staff—will receive raises retroactive to July 1, 2010, more holidays off, and members who do not work in a school will also be able to take a spring break.
The union would not release any more details until the contract was presented to its members, according to a spokeswoman, who also said that a ratification date has not yet been set.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 4, 2011

Baltimore's graduation rate: A tale of two cities

An interesting debate took place on the opinion pages of The Sun recently. 

A teacher who taught at Western High School--one of the city's historic flagship high school--for 22 years, wrote a scathing analysis of the city's climbing graduation rate, and exposed a practice that could have inflated those numbers in recent years.

Paul Evans, who recently retired after teaching in the district for a total of 31 years, explained how Western administrators were instructed by North Avenue to reduce the number of students on the school's list who shouldn't graduate. Evans claims that in recent years, city school officials would kick back the list of 20-25 and Western would, "dutifully pare the list down to an "acceptable level" by allowing many unworthy students to graduate."  The school would ultimately submit seven or eight, Evans wrote.

Evans was compelled to write in response to another letter to the editor, where authors of a recently released national report, "Building a Grad Nation: Progress and Challenge in Ending the High School Dropout Epidemic, 2010-2011 Annual Report," sang the praises of Baltimore's improved graduation rate--the same praises that we've referenced in several stories in the months after the city announced its 66 percent graduation rate last year. 

These authors concluded in their letter that, "with the lives of young Americans and the country's future place in the world at stake, the hopeful tale of Baltimore City's educational progress serves as a challenge to other communities."

However, Evans said that as a result of graduating students out of the system, city students have become less serious and are not held responsible for their futures.

He wrote that the city's graduation practices, "also demonstrates why the increase in graduation rates has not resulted in higher SAT scores, nor has it increased the readiness level of Baltimore City graduates for college-level work. It also explains why the large majority of high school graduates in the city still must take remedial courses, in English and especially math, in their first year of college. " (Inspired by the same report, a professor at a local community college later wrote in to comment on the topic.)

Evans concluded: "The city, and especially the students, deserve better. The bar truly needs to be raised."

So whose account do you believe? Do Baltimore's graduation numbers tell the story of a district that is graduating students who are prepared to compete in the world?  Or a district that is graduating enough students to compete with other districts in national reports?

Posted by Erica Green at 9:32 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

April 1, 2011

Baltimore should take notes from D.C.'s massive cheating scandal

Our editorial board weighed in today on the recent USA Today investigation that revealed a high number of erasure marks on standardized test booklets in D.C. public schools--particularly in schools that had seen notable gains in test scores.

While Baltimore has experienced a similar situation in at least one school, though not to the degree found in D.C., our editorial board concluded that city school officials would be wise to take their initiatives to detect possible cheating a step further as a result of what's been revealed about our neighbors to the south.

City schools officials have boasted about revving up their monitoring efforts during testing--spending $320,000 to place monitors in every school during the MSAs this year--but is that enough?

Our editorial board weighed in on that question, concluding: "We hope Baltimore will never have to endure the kind of testing scandal Washington’s school system is currently facing. But that won’t come from resting on its laurels and assuming enhanced monitoring means it can’t happen here. Baltimore should continue to monitor erasure patterns and to make that information available to the public. We have no reason to suspect that the gains shown here aren’t genuine, and publishing that information would serve only to eliminate any possibility of suspicion."

Do you agree?

Posted by Erica Green at 3:57 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 29, 2011

City schools considering first grading policy

Baltimore city school officials are proposing a district-wide grading system that would require all middle and high schools to shift from reporting percentage figures on report cards to reporting in letter form (A, A+, A-, B, C, D, etc.).

The proposal would also add plus and minus to grades in fourth and fifth grade, which are currently reported as Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, etc. (So, schools could use Excellent +, Good-, etc.) 

The proposed policy would also redefine the purpose of grading as, "reflecting a student's performance on course of study expectations." As a result, attendance would no longer be factored into a student's grade.

There is currently no grading policy in the city school system--which came as a shock to many-- and for as long as anyone can remember, schools have had their own, individual policies for reporting grades.

This has proven to be a recipe for confusion among parents who have students in different schools in the city, but whose grades have been reported in completely different formats. 

Continue reading "City schools considering first grading policy" »

Posted by Erica Green at 8:44 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 23, 2011

Baltimore city school system budget still a "moving field," Alonso says

Baltimore city school officials met this week to discuss a 2012 budget still in limbo as the school system awaits word of how decisions at the state level will impact its funding.  But, during a school board worksession Tuesday, city school officials provided a tentative assessment of what the budget could look like when it's presented on May 10.

The full presentation on the tentative budget projections can be found here.

Of note, city school officials said that overall funding for schools will go up next year, but with less flexibility. Due to an increase in "locked funding"--such as funding solely for specific programs like special education--this will create tensions, school officials said.

Continue reading "Baltimore city school system budget still a "moving field," Alonso says " »

Posted by Erica Green at 3:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 21, 2011

City schools under spending freeze, budget work session scheduled for Tuesday

Baltimore city schools will host a work session on the fiscal year 2012 budget on Tuesday at 1:00 p.m., where city schools staff will give updates and reports on budgetary matters. Public comment will not be taken at the session, but the public is welcome to attend. 

Aside from the state budget-cut scenarios, there's been little buzz about what the city school budget could hold for next year. But, school officials have been transparent about the fact that hard decisions will have to be made at the school level.

A recent move by the school system shows that they're already preparing for the worst.

Since March 7, city schools has been operating under a spending freeze that will last through June 30, or the remainder of the fiscal year. The school system said that they also did the same thing last spring, and that "it allows us to close gaps where they exist, and make sure that we close out the fiscal year whole."

"This year we expect the freeze to capture about $10 million," the school system said in a statement.

According to a note to school leaders, the spending freeze means, "that all purchases will be carefully reviewed and purchases that are not essential to student success will not be approved for the remainder of this fiscal year.  Existing contractual obligations will be honored and you will have the opportunity to provide justification for various purchases that you may think are essential."

The school system also provided guidelines (listed below) for schools to follow in deciding what falls under "non-essential spending."  

Continue reading "City schools under spending freeze, budget work session scheduled for Tuesday" »

Posted by Erica Green at 12:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 19, 2011

Archbishop says he's not shutting out charters

Today, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien wrote a letter to the editor, to address the idea that the Archdiocese is shutting out charters. The letter is in response to an article I wrote earlier this week that explained how a recent attempt of a Baltimore charter school to buy a vacant Catholic school building failed because the charter stood to threaten neighboring Catholic schools. It was discovered that it wasn't only that building that was off limits to charters, but all 13 Archdiocese buildings that are currently sitting vacant.

The Archbishop emphasized points that I had in my story to explain that the Archdiocese is not shutting out charters. For example, 18 of its buildings now house educational programs (4 are charters, and the rest are primarily head start programs).

The Archdiocese also recently leased a building to Mt. Washington Elementary so that it could expand to serve middle school grades. I was told that Mt. Washington, which is not a charter school, did not pose a threat because it would primarily serve public school students from the area. Another deal with a charter is supposed to be announced soon, he said.

The Archbishop concluded that: "We all have a role in educating children, and we think it is to Baltimore's advantage to maintain the presence of Catholic schools for many years to come. For that reason, we must make the promotion and strengthening of Catholic schools our first priority while continuing to work with our educational, government and business partners in the city to ensure every child has access to outstanding educational options."

Posted by Erica Green at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 18, 2011

Eyes on Alonso as he draws attention of Chicago

It seems that nearly every superintendent seat that's been vacated in the last year has emerged as a prospect for schools CEO Andres Alonso, whose Baltimore contract is set to expire this year. 

First it was Washington, D.C., then it was Atlanta, and then Detroit. And then there was Newark and New York--Alonso's hometowns, and where started his careers--and whose job offers he couldn't possibly refuse. Admittedly, I've become as irritated chasing the rumors, as Alonso probably is having to constantly respond to them.

But, as we reported , a new city has emerged as a contender to possibly lure Alonso away. And from the feedback I've received, unlike the numerous other cities that have circulated in the past, a possible offer from Chicago has some Baltimore education leaders worried.

Clarification: I had been in touch with my counterpart at the Chicago Tribune, our flagship paper, about Alonso's name circulating in high circles over there. Eventually, it was consistent enough that the Tribune felt comfortable going with a story and we agreed.

The Tribune's story outlined all of the candidates who could get an offer from mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, but top-billed Alonso as one who seems a philosophical match. Chicago experts even weighed in on how Alonso would fit there (I would encourage everyone to check out that commentary in the Tribune's story).

So, with the June 30 deadline for Alonso's contract fast approaching, we can now start asking the fun questions.

Will he stay, or will he go?  According to a Baltimore Sun poll, many believe he will be lured away before his contract is renewed.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:57 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 17, 2011

Archdiocese property listings show limits of charter leases/sales

We explain a story today that the Archdiocese of Baltimore has decided not to lease 13 of its vacant buildings-10 in Baltimore City and three in Baltimore County--to public charter schools.

A controversial decision, the archdiocese has said today that the decision is not absolute, and that exceptions can be made for some charters that don't pose a threat to their neighboring Catholic schools, or Catholic programs that offer similar curricula to charters.

However, it appears that all of the vacant schools stand to have competition from charters, because according to property listings on the archdiocese website, which can be viewed here, every single property listing says: "This school building cannot be leased or sold to public charter schools."

The archdiocese's decision, aimed at helping to stabilize a Catholic school system, has drawn criticism from city and school officials who believed that after a controversial decision to close 13 schools last year, the Archdiocese should use the vacant buildings for any viable educational institution that can offer more options for families.

However, many say that doing that could threaten the very schools the Archdiocese said would be strengthened by a painful consolidation last year. One existing Catholic school, Cardinal Shehan, is now thriving after absorbing students from one of the buildings that closed, but is now being sought after by a city charter. Proximity and competition are key factors in their decisions, they said, and the 200 years of educating Baltimore children of all creeds show that they are invested in the future of Baltimore city students. 


Posted by Erica Green at 10:43 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 16, 2011

Baltimore could see restoration of some state education funds

Annapolis reporter Annie Linksey reported in today's Sun that House leaders are looking to shift about $58.5 million back to state education funding, a move that would restore cuts to Baltimore schools. The city stood to lose between $15 million and $17 million in the state's original budget, while more affluent districts would have received more funding. Thousands of education advocates, teachers, educators have rallied against the cuts.

Read more about the House's plan and how much the city would gain here. Members of the House Appropriations Committee are scheduled to start voting Wednesday.

Posted by Erica Green at 8:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 15, 2011

City school system needs more than 300 teachers to move forward with early retirement plan

The Baltimore city school system needs 315 teachers in order to execute a plan to offer an early retirement incentives to educators with more than 10 years experience.

According to the latest update from the school system's website, 36 teachers have committed to taking the buyout, announced last month as a cost-saving measure that could save the district between $5 million and $10 million next year.

By offering teachers 75 percent of their current salaries, which would be dispensed into an investment account over a five-year-period, the district hoped that it could induce up to 750 early retirements and resignations. If 350 teachers don't 't take the plan, the deal will be called off.  

With a month until the April 15 deadline for teachers to take the buyout, it seems that minimum may be hard to come by.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:36 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 11, 2011

Joint Governing Panel for teachers union contract announced

Baltimore city school and Baltimore Teachers Union officials announced this week members of a Joint Governing Panel that will hammer out the most critical details of the district's teachers union contract. The panel was established in the contract, ratified last fall, and will be responsible for rolling out several elements of the contract, including the criteria for "achievement units" that city teachers will be able to use to move up a new career ladder.  

The members of the panel (named in this story) represent four educators interviewed and appointed by BTU, and four by the district. They will serve three-year-terms at $94,000 a year. The salaries are funded by Race to the Top funds. They began meeting this month.

Their first courses of action include working on the rubric that will be used for teachers to move into the top tiers--known as "model" and "lead" pathways--of a new career ladder. They are also currently working on a peer review process for teachers who didn’t meet the criteria for initial placement on the model pathway. Those tasks must be done by June 30.

The union informed me that they have been holding focus groups to weigh in as the panel begins its work. A write-up on the focus groups, done by the American Federation of Teachers, is provided below.

Continue reading "Joint Governing Panel for teachers union contract announced" »

Posted by Erica Green at 10:49 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 9, 2011

Staff shakeups at city schools are really teacher shuffles around the district

Today we had a story that described a lively debate among Baltimore city school board members  about the future of the district, as more schools become destined for staff or curriculum overhauls because they fail to make adequate yearly progress (AYP)--measured by federally mandated academic targets required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Four of five schools--including some that have made notable progress, but not AYP-- were recommended Tuesday for "strategic staff replacement" if their MSA scores don't improve this year. A fifth school would reopen as a public charter, most likely with new staff as well.

Frustrations flared as school leaders spoke of how one of the schools, City Springs Elementary/Middle, has seen drastic gains in test scores, attendance rates and climate. Patterson High was another school on list, but has a high graduation rate and low dropout rate-- top priorities for the district.

In a rare and refreshing move, school board members approved the recommendations, but not without speaking their minds.

As AYP targets continue to rise, some members said, a parade of schools will be coming before the board dreading the turmoil that comes with failing to meet unrealistic goals that are based almost solely on a set of test scores. 

Another board member expressed a strong concern about the climates of schools deteriorating, as teachers become more focused on losing their jobs, and less focused on teaching students.

But city school officials had an interesting response that took the conversation in another direction: The teachers won't necessarily lose their jobs. They'll just be sent to other schools--in what essentially is a teacher shuffle around the district.

Continue reading "Staff shakeups at city schools are really teacher shuffles around the district " »

Posted by Erica Green at 9:14 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

Education funding rally to take place rain or shine

The rally in Annapolis to stop education cuts to Baltimore city will take place on Thursday-- rain or shine, organizers said. The rally was postponed last week due to inclement weather forecasts, and while another intense rainstorm is in the forecast for tomorrow, The Baltimore Education Coalition is urging that people stock up on ponchos, umbrellas and waterproof boots to send a message to lawmakers that the city cannot afford a more than $15 million cut to its state funding next year.

There were 4,000 people signed up to attend the rally last week, and about 130 buses will be leaving from all around the city on Thursday. The rally is set to begin around 6:30 p.m. on Lawyer's Mall.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

KIPP Baltimore and BTU continue negotiations before heading to Annapolis

Roughly 24 hours before representatives from KIPP Baltimore and the Baltimore Teachers Union were due to be in Annapolis today, the two parties agreed to a postponement on a bill hearing that sought to allow KIPP teachers to override the union contract and vote in their own working conditions. 

The issue was taken up by city lawmakers who believed legislation was necessary to allow the school to operate its stringent and effective model of long school days and summer school without having to negotiate high overtime premiums for its teachers every year. The school has said it will close its doors on June 30 if it cannot come to a 10-year-agreement with the union on how it will operate its schools.

The two parties have until March 16 to come to an agreement. The bill hearing is rescheduled for that date.

Jason Botel, executive director of KIPP Baltimore, said Tuesday that KIPP and the union were heavily negotiating in good faith to stop the closure of the organization's two high performing schools. Read a letter from Botel that explains the latest.  

Posted by Erica Green at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 8, 2011

MSAs underway with extra eyes and ears in the Baltimore

Maryland students in third through eighth grades began the Maryland School Assessments this week, and Baltimore city schools began testing Tuesday with hundreds of monitors in buildings across the city. In a story today, the school system confirmed that they had hired and trained at least 157 extra monitors this year to ensure the integrity of the testing this year, after two highly acclaimed schools were found and suspected of testing improprieties last spring. The school system also deployed central office staff to schools, and staff from the CAO and Accountability offices will be responsible for coordinating assessments of several schools.  

One of those schools that made headlines last year was George Washington Elementary, a school that has bounced back in the last two years under new leadership. A state investigation found that the school's 2008 test booklets had been extensively tampered with. But, last year, the school had more than a dozen monitors and still made its yearly academic targets. Most recently, George Washington has generated positive buzz for an MSA rap video that has become a small YouTube sensation. Check it out, if you haven't.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:29 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 4, 2011

City school students make rap video to rev up for MSA

Maryland students will be buckling down to begin Maryland School Assessment tesing on Tuesday, and students at Baltimore's George Washington Elementary made a very cute rap video show how they revved up for the tests.

This is a big year for Baltimore, as the district's 2010 scores stalled after noting big leaps in the last three years. How and whether the scores will move this year will be unveiled this summer.

Posted by Erica Green at 6:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

March 2, 2011

Future of KIPP Baltimore charters uncertain

A story in today's paper explained how a threat that KIPP Baltimore made last year to leave Maryland may come to fruition on June 30.

The highly regarded charter organization, which runs 99 schools in 20 states, has set the June deadline for the Baltimore Teachers Union to commit to a long-term agreement that would allow the school to have a 9 1/2 day without having to pay its teachers a large premium, determined through negotiations every year. The school is also looking to  invest in a school building in Baltimore, a commitment it doesn't want to make without full autonomy to implement its model.

But the BTU holds fast to its mission to represent all teachers in the district, ensuring that educators are compensated fully and fairly for their time and energy. On the heels of ratifying an innovative teachers contract--designed to pay city educators more for their work and results--union officials say they will not take any steps that would undermine what they rightfully bargained.

The conflict has even made it to the editorial pages of The Washington Post.

But, this issue is not black and white. There is a shade of gray. Her name is Sonya Moss.

Continue reading "Future of KIPP Baltimore charters uncertain" »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:50 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 22, 2011

City teachers more concerned about shortfalls than contract raises

Today we wrote a story about Baltimore city teachers receiving new career pathways under the recently ratified Baltimore Teachers Union contract. Placing the city's 6,900 teachers on a new career ladder, introduced into the district by the contract, is one of the first developments of the new pact. On the ladder, many teachers are seeing a pay bump and have a better idea of their future promotion and compensation opportunities in the district.

But, in several interviews, many teachers said that they were less concerned about their own financial futures under the new contract, and more concerned about the financial forecast of the district.

Updated information, pointed out to me by city school officials on Feb. 23:  The city school system is noting a $70 million shortfall for next year, on top of a $15 million cut in state funding. The new teachers union contract is estimated at $60 million over three years, but accounts for only $13,293 million of the shortfall this year. The salary increases under the previous BTU contract would have been $12,876. 

School officials have said that the shortfalls could result in everything from larger class sizes to cutting enrichment programs.

Continue reading "City teachers more concerned about shortfalls than contract raises " »

Posted by Erica Green at 2:40 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 17, 2011

Baltimore city teacher buyout: Read the fine print

We've decided to post this as a public service announcement, because there still seems to be some confusion from the coverage of the city teacher buyout plan. Below is a FAQ sheet from the Baltimore Teachers Union that explains the key points of the Early Retirement Incentive Program.

I'd like to also offer my own FAQ: The buyout plan offers 75% of a teachers current salary DIVIDED over a 5-year-timespan. It is NOT 75 percent of a salary each year.

Here is an excerpt from one of our stories: "In an example of the package's breakdown, school officials said a teacher in the middle of the salary scale would earn about $60,000 a year. Seventy-five percent of that salary is $45,000; divided by five years, the package would pay out $750 a month."

Keep reading for the BTU breakdown:

Continue reading "Baltimore city teacher buyout: Read the fine print " »

Posted by Erica Green at 12:41 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

Baltimore schools CO detectors a result of COO's swift action

It took two potentially dangerous incidents at Dickey Hill Elementary/Middle for city school officials to realize that their dilapidated buildings should have carbon monoxide detectors, even if they weren't obligated to provide them.

But it only took just as many hours for city schools COO Keith Scroggins to begin inquiring about how feasible it would be to get them not only in Dickey Hill, but in every school. As our coverage yesterday noted, the school system's 200-plus schools are due to get detectors within a month.

This is worth noting considering that what Scroggins set into motion with an email to city officials and a media briefing, other districts (like CT) are still waiting to obtain with legislation. Everyone from the Baltimore City Fire Department to the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management responded to make it happen.

Continue reading "Baltimore schools CO detectors a result of COO's swift action" »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:44 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 15, 2011

Alonso encourages school system to 'act now' to oppose cuts

Baltimore City schools CEO Andres Alonso put out an e-blast Tuesday night to all interested stakeholders in the system, saying that the state's budget situation was now of "fundamental importance," for the city.

"Any change in the state method for funding education that reduces our funding at a time of growing enrollment is a grave risk to the progress and momentum that is now underway in city schools," the first line of the letter said.

In recent weeks, the CEO has become increasingly more vocal about how the city's budget shortfalls could increase class sizes, cut teaching positions, and force principals to axe programs in their schools. The district is also looking for millions in savings by offering a early retirement incentive to 750 teachers. 

Continue reading "Alonso encourages school system to 'act now' to oppose cuts" »

Posted by Erica Green at 8:49 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

Parents, experts fear city could shed strong teachers in buyout

In my follow-up story today about the city school district's plan to buy out teachers, we had parents and a national teacher quality expert to sound off about the possible ramifications of a plan that could have the city losing up to 750 of its most experienced educators.

The response was overwhelmingly one of concern, with parents worried that their students could not only lose teachers with decades of expertise, but also the best and brightest teachers who may take the opportunity to explore other career options. They were just as concerned about a less-experienced wave of teachers being hired to fill those vacancies.

Our editorial board weighed in today also, saying that the buyout should not affect the progress the district has made.

While some school officials were not able to fathom the idea that parents could possibly take issue with losing good teachers--the parents spoke for themselves. The money quote of the day came from a parent featured in my article (but it was more blog material): "If some of my child's teachers walk out the door, I’m going to be pi**ed.” 

“Who would want to send their kid to a school with all new teachers?” he asked.

Continue reading "Parents, experts fear city could shed strong teachers in buyout " »

Posted by Erica Green at 12:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 14, 2011

Amid buyout offer, teachers to receive new career paths

About 3,200 of the Baltimore's veteran teachers received word of a deal last week that may have them heavily consider leaving the school system.

But, as of Monday, all teachers should have also received notice of another offer that would encourage them to stay.

Monday was the deadline for city school officials to send teachers their new, provisional career paths under the new Baltimore Teachers Union contract. The contract, ratified in December, introduced a new career ladder in the system that is designed to motivate teachers to achieve high statuses and make top dollars, based on proven effectiveness in the classroom and the pursuit of professional development and leadership opportunities in their schools.  The career ladder, school and union officials said, was also intended to raise the salary ceiling for the most tenured teachers in the district.

Continue reading "Amid buyout offer, teachers to receive new career paths" »

Posted by Erica Green at 11:20 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 13, 2011

Alonso offers city teachers early retirement

My colleague, Erica Green, writes today about what seems a sweet buyout offer for city teachers who are in the mood to leave the system. Andres Alonso will give teachers 75 percent of their salary for five years if they decide by April 15th they would like to take an early retirement. We are interested in hearing from city teachers about whether the find this deal worth it.
Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:09 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 9, 2011

Should parents be allowed to overhaul failing schools? Baltimore Teachers Union doesn't think so

Buried in our story about Sen. Bill Ferguson's education bill package was a particularly interesting and slightly radical piece of legislation concerning parent involvement that actually prompted the Baltimore Teachers Union to put out a strongly-worded press release.

Ferguson has introduced a "Parent Empowerment Act," which would allow parents of students at failing public schools to petition for a complete overhaul of the school's governance structure. Insired by "parent trigger" laws in other states, such as California, the law would allow parents the opportunity to "take their frustration, and use it to initiate change," Ferguson said.

Similar legislation is gaining momentum in other states like Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, and Florida. Ferguson said the intent of the legislation is to allow parents to intervene more quickly if their student's education is at risk.  Currently, Ferguson pointed out that there is a 6-year-calendar for alternative governance plans to kick into action if a school is failing, “and parents in schools right now, don’t have six years to wait," he said.

"This says that parents don’t have to wait for the school system," he said. "They can initate it themselves." 

But the Teachers Union believes there will be unintended consequences with so much parent empowerment. In a statement below, the union voiced its concern:

Continue reading "Should parents be allowed to overhaul failing schools? Baltimore Teachers Union doesn't think so " »

Posted by Erica Green at 3:30 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 8, 2011

Mayor commits to fully supporting city schools in 'State of the City' speech

In case you missed it among all of the accolades in education portion of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's 'State of the City' address Monday, the mayor made some pretty strong commitments to schools in the coming year, considering the sizeable city budget deficit.

According to the text of the mayor's address, she pledged do the following:

"The budget realignment for 'Better Schools' maintains full funding of the city's obligation to public schools. And, despite an $80 million deficit this year:

• We will maintain every school based health center, because we know that health is critical for keeping students in school.
• We will keep the doors of every neighborhood library open to promote reading and lifelong learning.
• We will maintain our investment in Teach For America, which has doubled since last year, in order to get the best new teachers. We will fund Experience Corps to keep sending volunteers into the classroom.
• We will increase funding to the Youth Opportunity Program for workforce services aimed towards at-risk youth.
• The City will continue to fund the after-school programs that were added to the budget at the height of the housing boom, when the City was enjoying large budget surpluses. These programs reach more than 5,000 students, helping to increase school attendance and leveraging $16 million in other resources.

On Monday, she also announced the creation of a new Mayor's Youth Cabinet to better coordinate the City's collective resources and services for children. The cabinet, the mayor said, will also focus on leveraging state, federal, foundation, and private funding to enhance outcomes for our youth. Dr. Carla Hayden, head of Enoch Pratt Free Library System, will serve as chair.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

Education Funding Rally planned for Feb. 28

The Baltimore Education Coalition, a coalition of about 25 of the city's most active education stakeholders, have planned an Education Funding Rally for Feb. 28 in Annapolis. We did a story today about the coalition's efforts in the last month to encourage city school communities to fight a proposed $15 million cut to Baltimore, as proposed in Gov. Martin O'Malley's fiscal 2012 budget.

The group has mobilized hundreds in past year to head to the state capital to oppose cuts to education funding, and expect more than 1,000 this year. They're signing up busloads of people in communities all around the city, and anyone is encouraged to organize and sign up for bus transportation to the rally. For more information about the rally and how to participate, go to the Coalition's website.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:06 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

February 3, 2011

The complexities of 'school choice'

Today we ran a story that looked at Baltimore's 'school choice' program and how its benefits and  challenges exemplify a question being asked in every school district across the nation: How do families gain access to good schools for their children?

It's a simple question with complex answers--making for a complicated story to write. But Baltimore is a laboratory for this conversation, as district leaders continue to not only experiment with ways to provide families with more options, but also with how to make every school a good option.

Nationally, the conversation has become more intense as advocates rally around a mother from Ohio was was jailed last month for falsifying her childrens' addresses to obtain access to better schools for them. Read The Post's coverage of the story of Kelly Williams-Bolar, being hailed as "The Rosa Parks of Education" here.

What was missing in Baltimore's story was a public school leader. Many declined to go on the record with their opinions--some saying that it doesn't really affect neighborhood schools that still fill every seat, others saying they didn't want to deal with the repercussions of criticizing a program described as the "trademark of [their bosses] administration."

So, it was left up to the charters, and their supporters and opponents to battle it out. Not surprising, since charters are usually at the center of most hot-topic conversations about reforms--sometimes as a scapegoat, sometimes not.

But in this case, charters took one for the team--and I'm grateful that they did.

They showed that choice is not perfect, nor does it work out well for everyone--and the debate about why there are winners and losers should probably happen more often. Because, as Lorna Hanley, of the Leadership School for Young Women, concluded so poignantly at the close of the story: "At the end of the day, everyone's working harder for our children, so they win."

Posted by Erica Green at 8:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 31, 2011

Nonprofit offering tax, financial aid help to city families

A city non-profit organization, Baltimore CASH (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) Campaign will be offering free tax preparation for city families, an effort that could also help college-bound students vie for thousands of dollars in financial aid.  

We wrote a story last month about the city and school system efforts to encourage all families to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). For years, city students have been missing out on billions in financial aid for college because families have been reluctant, or have failed to properly file their tax information.

The CASH campaign announced Monday that it will partner with the school system to reverse that trend.

The Baltimore CASH Campaign is partnering with Baltimore City Public Schools to bring FAFSA filing directly to students and their families.  CASH’s trained volunteers from Baltimore City Public Schools and Citi will provide help filling out the FAFSA at more than 7 City high schools during 20 Free Tax Preparation/FAFSA events at the schools. 

“Paying for college can be a huge barrier for our students and families, which is why completing the FAFSA is so critical. It is the door to so many resources,” city schools CEO Andres Alonso, said at a press conference Monday.  

“So the fact that Baltimore CASH Campaign is joining City Schools’ efforts to help our families complete the FAFSA—and doing so free of charge—is a tremendous help to City Schools and a tremendous opportunity for our high school seniors and their families. Baltimore CASH is helping make our students’ college dreams come true.”

Listed below are the sites that the CASH campaign will be offering assistance: (provided by the organization)

Continue reading "Nonprofit offering tax, financial aid help to city families " »

Posted by Erica Green at 5:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 28, 2011

Are city schools helping retain Baltimoreans?

A story today by reporter June Torbati outlines how in the current economic slump, Baltimore homeowners and college graduates may help reverse the trend of declining populations in the 2010 census. 

City planners pointed to the school system's increasing enrollment numbers as an indicator of how the population numbers could shake out. Some residents interviewed in the story say that education opportunities--from having good neighborhood schools, to starting their own charter as an alternative--have helped keep them in the city, even if they had looked to live elsewhere.

In the story, city schools CEO Andres Alonso weighed in on the role he thinks the city's high-profile reforms may have played in retaining residents. The story points out that after years of declining enrollments, the number of children in Baltimore's public schools has risen in the past three years to 83,800 in the 2010-2011 school year, according to figures from the school system.

Alonso said the enrollment jump in 2008 shocked planners, who he said had expected city schools to continue shedding students at the rate of thousands per year as the system had done for decades. Alonso attributed the jump not to the recession but to three years of much-publicized reforms and a better perception of city schools.

Alonso concluded, however, that: "Perceptions about school climate and safety have an enormous hold on many parents," Alonso wrote in an e-mail. "We will probably have to continue improving for a while longer before we improve sufficiently to attract all parents, and old assumptions go away."

Posted by Erica Green at 4:40 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 26, 2011

City student joins first group of elite scholars

A Friendship Public Charter School junior will be among the first class of elite scholars, the school announced this week.

Pereviva Besong, a junior at the Friendship Academy of Science and Technology, has been named a MERIT Scholar, a program that prepares students from low-income neighborhoods pursue a career in medicine. MERIT is the Medical Education Resources Initiative for Teens and is designed to prepare them for the academic and financial challenges that lie ahead.

In her time as a MERIT Scholar, Pereviva will work with undergraduate and medical school mentors, participate in paid summer internships at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and attend Saturday sessions aimed at increasing college readiness.    

Posted by Erica Green at 12:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

Schools encouraged to apply for arts program by Feb. 1

Applications are being accepted until Feb. 1 from Baltimore City Public Schools for funding for arts experiences from Arts Every Day for the 2011-2012 school year.

Arts Every Day strengthens learning and student development in Baltimore City schools by making arts education and cultural experiences an integral part of curriculum. Application forms and information are available at

For the 2011-2012 school year, Arts Every Day will reach more students than ever before: the number of schools which will receive support is expected to double to 50, according to a release from the organization. Among the benefits that Arts Every Day schools receive are a minimum of $5 per student for arts-integration programming, regular professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators, ongoing support and guidance for school staff coordinating arts integration activities, and training and use of Arts Every Day’s nationally recognized website.

During the current school year, 25 elementary and middle schools, 800 educators, and 11,000 students are benefitting from arts education, cultural experiences, and arts integration - from teaching artists visiting the classroom and school-wide assemblies to field trips to local museums and attendance at public performances.

Additional information about the application process and Arts Every Day can be requested at

Posted by Erica Green at 12:02 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 21, 2011

Teacher application surge: Contract or coincidence

We ran a story earlier this week about Baltimore city's applicant pool for teaching positions nearly doubling what it was last year in the months after the BTU introduced a radical new contract that positioned the city as a national fixture for education reform. It's no surprise that city school officials attribute the surge in the latter part of last year to the contract, but experts say that the economy and unemployment rates should give leaders pause before they begin touting a pact that still has yet to be fully recognized by even those who work under it.

The expert source in our story, Emily Cohen, who knows all things teacher quality and contracts, also said that teachers are usually attracted more to a leader of a district than a contract--which means that the surge could be a result of schools CEO Andres Alonso's increasing national profile.

I checked in with Baltimore County too just to get a sense if the trend was being experienced in other places, and the county's human resources director said they  currently "had more applications than we know what to do with," and have even had to cut back on their recruitment efforts. Granted, sources say this is not be unusual for the county, a popular destination for teachers who can't quite stomach the city's challenges, but still desire the diversity and proximity to an urban population.

Our editorial board weighed in today on the city's application surge, and whether they believe the contract has become a magnet for talent.

We should know by the end of the summer when all applications and hires are completed for the next school year, whether the uptick reflects a true trend--particularly as more of the contract's nitty-gritty details are due to be divulged in the coming months.  

I'd love for our education community to weigh in on the application surge: Contract or coincidence?

Posted by Erica Green at 11:42 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 19, 2011

Study explores economic benefits of Catholic education

The Baltimore Archdiocese has released findings of a study that explores the economic benefits of Catholic education, namely that the city's parochial schools save taxpayers millions and produce high achieving students who contribute significantly to the local economy.

An independent study conducted by local economist and Baltimore City school board member, Anirban Basu, found that each year, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore save Maryland taxpayers more than $380 million in per pupil expenses and provide an additional $393.3 million into the local economy in income and revenue.  Among Basu's other findings is that graduation rates, college acceptances, and post-college income levels are higher among Catholic school students than those who attend public school.

The full report can be found here.

Basu, chairman and CEO of the Baltimore-based economic consulting firm Sage Policy Group, is also a member of  the recently appointed Archdiocese of Baltimore School Board, which began meeting this month to stabilize a system that has struggled financially and closed 28 of its schools, or 40 percent, since 2000. According to a release from the Archdiocese, Basu's study was completed last year. 

The report comes at a time when the Archdiocese is positioning itself to make sweeping changes to boost its Catholic program's appeal. The new school board, which includes many high-profile members of the education, business and philanthropic communities, will be advising the archdiocesan school system on matters such as advancement, finances, facilities and leadership.

Fellow Ed Reporter Liz Bowie pointed out an interesting tid-bit about this report: It was released the same week that the Maryland General Assembly convened. Last legislative session, Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien testified before state lawmakers in support of a corporate income tax credit to help public and private schools. With a bleek budget year forecasted for education, it will be interesting to see if the Archbishop makes another appearance in Annapolis this year-- with this report in tow.  

Posted by Erica Green at 11:43 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 18, 2011

More on MLK Jr. Day

From reporter Raven Hill, who wrote about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the challenges educators face teaching about his life and legacy:

While interviewing students at Leith Walk Elementary School for an article about Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy, fifth-grader Isaiah Pride mentioned that he’d like to learn more about the slain civil rights leader – specifically his name. Pride told me that he’d heard that Martin Luther King wasn’t his given name. I assured him that it was indeed.

Little did I know.

In a conversation with another fifth-grader over the weekend – my goddaughter – I learned that King’s original name was Michael King, Jr., and that his father later changed both of their names.

Sorry, Isaiah – you were right. And don’t worry, I won’t be appearing on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” anytime soon.

Posted by Jennifer Badie at 2:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 14, 2011

City charter school sweeps MLK essay competition

City Springs Elementary/Middle School swept a recent Martin Luther King Essay Writing Contest hosted by the Baltimore Urban Debate League and Walter's Art Museum. According to a release from the Baltimore Curriculum Project, the school took first and third place in the elementary division and first, second, and third place in the middle school division of the Essay Writing Contest.

Essays can be read here: City Springs Winning MLK Essays, or spend part of your day off on Monday, Jan. 17 to travel to the Walters Art Museum to hear essay contest winners read their pieces at 12:00 p.m as part of the museum's free MLK Jr. Family Festival.

They are truly impressive. 

Posted by Erica Green at 5:47 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

National, city movements confronts 'State of Black Children'

In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy, I thought I'd share this report  released earlier this week, which takes a crucial and comprehensive look at the 'State of Black Children and Families.'

The report, a joint project by the Children's Defense Fund on behalf of the Black Community Crusade for Children, provides a deeply researched analysis about the perils of poverty, unemployment that plagues the nation's black communities.

The BCCC, a crusade led by the high-profile educator Geoffrey Canada of the acclaimed Harlem Children's Zone organization in NY (Waiting for Superman), is gearing up to launch the second phase of its journey in combatting some of the problems outlined in the report.

However, a movement that mirrors the BCCC can be found right here in Baltimore, and its leaders are paying attention to the report's findings. We received reaction from one city agency:

Continue reading "National, city movements confronts 'State of Black Children'" »

Posted by Erica Green at 5:15 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 12, 2011

Alonso braces school board for tough decisions

Baltimore City schools CEO Andres Alonso and his chief financial officer engaged members of the city school board Tuesday in an intense debate about policy and funding decisions that are imminent in light of the forecast of a tough budget season.

In a school board work session attended by board members and a host of city staff at North Avenue, school officials discussed the history and future of the district's Fair Student Funding model -- a  per-pupil-funding program launched under the schools chief -- which may shake out to not be so "fair"  if, at the very least, a proposed 5 percent funding cut to education at the state level comes to pass this year. 

In anticipation of a cut to education funding, Alonso urged, "the board needs to determine a theory of action ... and be comfortable about what [the funding cut] means."

For example, he said, the 5 percent cut translates to a roughly $45 million hit to the city school budget.  Alonso told the board during the 2 1/2-hour discussion that the money would have to come from the schools, he said.

By definition, the schools chief said, schools will have a smaller per-pupil allotment, aside from other variables (such as enrollment) that already determine a schools' budget under the Fair Student Funding model. If the $45 million cut was passed down, schools could receive $600,000 less than last year. To any school that could mean losing 6 to 7 teachers, larger class sizes, or the preservation of class sizes at the expense of supplemental programs such as enrichment initiatives.

"We will be at a point where hard trade-offs needs to be made," Alonso told board members. "And we need to know that consequences of those trade-offs."

The Fair Student Funding program allots a baseline funding amount for every student in the district, and additional funding for students who have disabilities, fall behind in achievement, are advanced or are at risk for dropping out. When the school board passed its $1.23 billion budget last year, every student received about $5,000, and additional weights ranged from $641 for special education students to $1,500 for basic and advanced students.

The preliminary recommendations for the fiscal year 2012 budget are to maintain the same levels  for additional funding. But that means that other tough decisions would have to be made.

Alonso asked the board to make the following considerations:  

Continue reading "Alonso braces school board for tough decisions" »

Posted by Erica Green at 12:20 PM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 5, 2011

An interesting analysis of 'School Choice'

An op-ed appeared in The Sun last week that takes a very strong position on the notion of "school choice," a concept that has become a pillar of the Baltimore City school system. Howell Baum, a professor at University of Maryland, offers a provocative look at whether a district that allows parents to choose where their children attend school is an effective avenue to education reform, or simply a modern day example of "separate but equal."

I will be exploring some recent challenges and criticisms of Baltimore City's 'school choice' program, but would love to hear from our Inside Ed community as I continue my reporting.

Posted by Erica Green at 12:46 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 4, 2011

Maryland Science Center hosts free math and science program for city students

The Maryland Science Center has put this call out to all of Baltimore City's future scientists and engineers:

Beginning January 4, the Maryland Science Center will offer it second annual free program to encourage Baltimore city school students in grades 7-12 to enter the Morgan State University Annual Mathematics-Science-Engineering Fair. 

The After School Science Fair Program will provide free transportation and free admission to the Maryland Science Center for student groups and teachers to learn more about competing in the Morgan State fair.  

Students will meet with professional scientists and engineers during "ask the expert" sessions to get ideas and discuss project topics.  Students who choose to enter the science fair will receive support, guidance and assistance in completing their projects from these same professionals during a free follow up visit to the Maryland Science Center.

Each student who completes the project and submits it to the Morgan State fair will receive a free family membership to the Maryland Science Center.

The program will meet every Tuesday in January, with additional dates being added if students are interested. The program is funded by a major local corporation and a philanthropist.

Posted by Erica Green at 4:11 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

January 3, 2011

City schools gearing up for legislative session

The Baltimore City school board laid out its legislative wish list for the upcoming session of the Maryland General Assembly, and like most agencies, the school system has budget on the brain.

But among other concerns are: maintaining local authority, and keeping a fully elected school board. A more detailed report of the school system's legislative platform for the upcoming session can be found here.

Continue reading "City schools gearing up for legislative session " »

Posted by Erica Green at 6:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 30, 2010

What were the top Baltimore city school stories of 2010?

Bullies and cheating scandals marked the first half of 2010 for Baltimore city schools, while a landmark teachers contract and notable accomplishments of black male students rounded it out. Much will unfold in 2011. And as we await word if schools CEO Andres Alonso will sign on for another three or four years, the future of city schools will be scrutinized like no other.

But we'll start worrying about that on Monday.

As I mark my first year-end on the city schools beat (though it's only been 8 months), I thought it'd be fun to share my picks for the top stories of 2010:

1. Principals Under Fire- City school principals undoubtedly took the most heat this year, having been at the center of the biggest scandals in the distrct.

It all started in March when Sun reporter Liz Bowie wrote of accusations that Janice Williams, principal of the Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship High School, forced Filipino teachers to sell Mary Kay products for her financial gain. Williams denied any wrongdoing, but even the president of her union couldn't defend her.

The principal scandals flared when we broke the story about rampant MSA cheating at George Washington Elementary school, for which Principal Susan Burgess was held responsible. She also denied any wrongdoing, but lost her teaching license and set a prescedent for the school system to supposedly hold principals responsible for what takes place in their schools, even if they claim ignorance. 

Case and point: Angela Faltz, principal of Abbottson Elementary, who was removed after it was revealed that her test scores were being investigated by the state; and then there was Erma Jefferson, who was removed from John Eager Howard Elementary after allegedly having a slew of family members on the school's payroll.

A year of controversy also saw the departure of Ledonnis Hernandez of Gilmor Elementary, the school that gained national attention after a disabled third-grader was almost pushed to the edge--literally, of a window--because of chronic and ignored bullying.

We also learned in 2010, that this year's departures account for about 1/3 of the principal turnover that has taken place under schools CEO Andres Alonso. He makes no apologies for it. He's impatient about results, he said, and doesn't make his decisions based on the fate of adults.

For instance: Among the most high-profile (rather than scandalous) turnovers in 2010 was the reassignment of Barney Wilson, who left Polytechnic Institute to lead Reginald Lewis High School, and the resignation of Tim Dawson from City College. Alonso said Wilson's reassignment was part of a new approach to putting the best principals with the worst schools, and he was assigned to get Reginald F. Lewis High School on the path to Poly's success. I have yet to hear of another "best principal" and "worst school" pairing since then...but we shall see. 

Dawson's resignation was a "mutual decision," school leaders said, though it was dicovered later that the prestigious high school (who had a bad PR year in general), has noted declining academics and climate for the last couple of years. Two staff members at the school are facing criminal charges, along with a student who has been charged with allegedly trying to beat a classmate to death.

And, let's not forget: The retirement of principal Eleanor Matthews, a 41-year-vet of the school system, from Western High School this year has left all three of the city's flagship high school starting 2011 without permanent leaders.

Alonso said leadership will be a major focus in the New Year, and has already sent out a "Take a Lead in City Schools," email-blast for 2011. It calls for those who are interested in education to explore one of the many organizations that funnel teachers and principals into city schools, such as New Leaders for New Schools, Teach for America and the Baltimore City Teaching Residency.

In the e-blast, Alonso said, "As we approach the holidays and New Year, I want to call your attention to some unique upcoming opportunities for educators and non-educators alike to assume critical leadership roles in City Schools—and encourage you to explore them for yourselves and share them with colleagues and friends."  

Translation: Leadership was a hot topic in 2010, and it shows no sign of cooling down in 2011.

The rest of my top city school stories of 2010 are:

Continue reading "What were the top Baltimore city school stories of 2010? " »

Posted by Erica Green at 4:11 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 20, 2010

Vote for a greenhouse for Northwestern High School

A retired biochemist from Lutherville has taken it on himself to try to rebuild a mothballed old greenhouse on the roof of Northwestern High School in the city into a place where students can do real science. The catch, of course, is coming up with the money. Philip Filner discovered that Ikea is holding a contest called the Ikea Sustainability Grant. Filner's greenhouse project is one of five finalists chosen by Ikea from 2,000 entrants. The project that gets the most votes by January 17th will win $100,000. "You can vote once a day every day," Filner said. "We urgently need the help of the people in Baltimore to vote to support the project. Currently, he said, it is in third place.
 Filner said the greenhouse renovation was the brainchild of the principal who has been trying for several years to figure out a way to do the renovation because he believes it will encourage students toward careers in the sciences. To vote, go to

Posted by Liz Bowie at 4:53 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 14, 2010

Questions raised as family prepares to lay student to rest

Jeremy Jennings, Jr., the 6-year-old Baltimore city school student who died after falling from the back of a city school bus last week will likely be laid to rest on Friday, his mother said Monday.

Meanwhile the city school system is facing questions of policy and procedures for meeting the needs of special education students, particularly those they send out of the city because they suffer from such severe emotional and behavioral problems. 

The school system has been mum about how they're grappling with these issues in the wake of Jeremy's death, but released the following statement Sunday after they received word that he had died:

"City Schools is profoundly saddened by the death of one of our students who was injured
during an accident last week while returning home from a non-public school in Baltimore
County. We express our deepest sympathy to the student’s family, loved ones and school
community. We will work with Baltimore County authorities as they fully investigate the
circumstances surrounding this tragic accident, and respond as necessary after we know
all the facts concerning the accident."

Jeremy's mother, Lisa Avery--who is very well versed in special education law and rights--is anticipating the school system's response, demanding the answers to three poignant questions: Why wasn't Jeremy in his harness, as his IEP mandated? Why didn't the bus driver stop the bus when her son and another student were fighting? Why wasn't one of the two adult aides on the bus able to stop Jeremy from opening the door?

Concerned parents of special-needs students--including some whose children attended school with Jeremy--are also awaiting the same answers.

Continue reading "Questions raised as family prepares to lay student to rest" »

Posted by Erica Green at 3:15 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

Alonso's 2011 school reorganization plans meet little opposition

The two public forums centered around the closing of one city high school and the reorganization of four other schools drew very little opposition from school communities this year. Two public meetings were held Wednesday and Saturday of last week to discuss Alonso's recommendations, due to be voted on by the city school school board in January.

The third year of "Expanding Great Options" plans, announced by Alonso last month, is notably less radical than previous years. During his tenure, Alonso has orchestrated the closing of seven failing schools over a two-year period, and relocated five schools to other facilities. Last year, he closed five schools, replacing two of them and merging a third with an expanding school. Those recommendations were marked with contentious debate.

I wonder what was different this year: Are school communities just more accepting of change? Or has Alonso convinced the city that he's targeting the right schools?

Posted by Erica Green at 2:37 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 9, 2010

Baltimore Teachers Union contract is signed, sealed, and checks will be delivered

School system and Baltimore Teachers Union officials signed the dotted line Wednesday night on the recently ratified teachers union contract, solidifying the pact that will revolutionize the teaching profession in Baltimore for at least the next three years. 

The school board voted unanimously to approve the contract Wednesday, which union members voted to ratify on Nov. 17, after initially rejecting it in October.

On hand to officially sign the contract were: Schools CEO Andres Alonso, BTU President Marietta English, America Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President and longtime BTU chief negotiator Loretta Johnson, and Neil Duke, president of the city school board. 

It seemed to be an emotional and momentous occasion, particularly for Johnson, a longtime fixture in the city school system. Described as a tough-as-nails negotiator, Johnson has been approved by the AFT to stay on hand to negotiate the contract for the city's paraprofessionals and school related personnel, along with English. The principal and administrators union is also renegotiating its contract.

The immediate affects of the teachers union contract, which overhauls the way educators are promoted and compensated in the district, will be seen in teacher paychecks. After not receiving a pay raise for two years, educators should see a retroactive 2 percent pay raise and a $1,500 stipend sometime this month, Alonso told me last night.  

District and union officials will also begin meeting to establish two committees that will oversee the implementation of the complex pact, which eliminates traditional "step" increases and introduces a career ladder that teachers can climb through acquiring "achievement units"--essentially bonus points for those who go above and beyond, that can contribute to pay raises and promotions.

Those committee appointments are due to be released in January.

Posted by Erica Green at 3:11 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Baltimore City

December 7, 2010

Baltimore joins Gates Foundation effort to foster district-charter collaboration

Baltimore is among nine districts around the country that has signed on to the latest project by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation , which is geared toward fostering collaboration between public and charter schools to explore the best of what each model has to offer to students districtwide.

The project, formerly called the "District-charter collaborative compact," was announced this morning during a conference call with education reporters.

Vicki Phillps, director of education for the Gates Foundation, said that the initiative could diffuse a longstanding tension between privately run charters and traditional public schools. “Too often these stale debates make it difficult for teachers and schools to learn from each other,” Phillips said.

Baltimore will join other districts like New York, Denver and New Orleans in receiving a $100,000 education grant for signing onto a pact--literally a written contract among charter and school system leaders--that will stipulate information and data sharing about what is working in the best charter and public schools, in hopes of drawing the best practices from both and applying them across the district.

Among the most important discussions to take place between district and charter leaders will be that of equitable funding and facilities. Other conversations will center around everything from teacher effectiveness to better supporting students with special needs. Each district has a pact tailored to their needs.

Continue reading "Baltimore joins Gates Foundation effort to foster district-charter collaboration" »

Posted by Erica Green at 2:43 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 16, 2010

Baltimore city mayor endorses BTU contract

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wrote a piece in today's paper, urging the city's educators to "do the right thing" by voting for the proposed Baltimore Teachers Union contract tomorrow. The mayor has been a supporter of the district's efforts of revolutionizing the teaching profession in Baltimore since the contract was presented at the end of September.

The latest plug adds to an aggressive campaign that the BTU has waged in the last few weeks as they have been saturating the city with literature and volunteers to spread their message far and wide. This time around, they assert, no one can say they didn't have enough information on what's actually outlined in the contract.

We covered an interesting piece of the campaign today, which proved to be as controversial as the contract itself. But, it provided some insight into the tactics the union has utilized to be victorious this time around.

Voting is due to take place from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. at five locations around the city. It's hard to gauge what the results of the vote will be, but many I have spoke with say that turnout may be the determining factor.

What is the mood in your schools? Any predictions on the voting results?

Posted by Erica Green at 2:38 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 15, 2010

More children staying in school, alive in Baltimore

On Sunday, we ran a story looking at the correlation between Baltimore's declining dropout and juvenile crime rates in recent years, which showed that more students have been staying in school, and less have been out on the streets wreaking havoc in the city.

No one is raising a victory flag--with only 66 percent of students graduating from city schools, and still 1,000 or more leaving every year. Nine children lost their lives to violence this year, and thousands are still jailed. The stories in our paper remind us of those realities every single day.

But, more of the city's children have a future--literally-- today than they did just three years ago, and we should be reminded of that every once in a while too.

Posted by Erica Green at 11:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 5, 2010

Fundraiser planned tonight to help city teacher stay in the classroom

While I usually don't advertise personal events, I felt this benefit event, organized to help keep a courageous but diabled teacher in her classroom, was worth the exception.

Please read below for details:

Kate Hooks, a History teacher at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (and former teacher at City), has been living and teaching with multiple sclerosis her entire 9-year career in the Baltimore City Public Schools. The progressive disease has confined her to a wheelchair, and, in order for her to continue her passion of teaching, she must hire a caretaker (not covered by insurance) to help with various tasks, including assisting her in getting ready for work in the mornings.

Please join us in this benefit event for Kate on the night before the annual City/Poly football game, as Kate's current and former colleagues from Teach for America, Poly, and City (and whomever else would like to support the cause, including former students or the general public) toast to her well-being and raise money for her assistance and continued dedication to teaching the youth of Baltimore.

Roots Rocker Caleb Stine ( will be performing, Ze Mean Bean ( is offering pierogies for just a quarter each, and there will be drink specials (and the bartender will donate all tips to the cause).

We are asking for a $20 donation for the event and the goal is to raise enough money for Kate to be able to afford a caretaker and continue teaching her 9th graders into the new year. Thanks so much for your support and please spread the word. All are invited.
What: Kate Hooks Benefit Happy Hour & Concert. Help a BCPSS teacher in her battle for independence.

When: Friday, November 5th, 4:00 – 6:30 p.m.
Where: Ze Mean Bean Café, 1739 Fleet Street, corner of Fleet & Ann in Fells Point (410-675-5999),<>
Donation: $20
Donations all go to Ms. Hooks so she can hire a caretaker to help her get ready for work in the mornings and continue teaching her full load of 9th graders into the new year and beyond.

Mr. Mark Miazga
English Teacher and Varsity Baseball Coach, Baltimore City College

Posted by Erica Green at 12:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

November 3, 2010

BTU sets new vote date

The Baltimore Teachers Union has announced a new voting date, when they will make another attempt at passing a radically new contract that was rejected by city educators last month.

According to the BTU website, union members will head back to the polls on Wednesday, Nov. 17, where they will be able to casts ballots from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. The polling places have not yet been determined.

Since the revised contract was released on Oct. 19, the BTU appears to have upped its game in running a more organized, sophisticated and colorful campaign to present new details outlined in the contract to teachers. In addition to more information accessible on its Web site, the union has run a series of meetings, almost every day, after school hours, at sites around the city. Sources tell us that the tone of the meetings can sometimes undermine the purpose, but the debate is continuing nonetheless.

It seems that with the help of the American Federation of Teachers, the union is taking notes from the first-go-round, in looking to spread its message far, wide and in as unified a way as possible to change minds and boost turnout -- and ensure that people are making an informed decision.

But, what the next vote may prove, above all, is whether the defeat of the new contract was really about the delivery or the details, or just plan dissent. 

Posted by Erica Green at 6:46 PM | | Comments (54)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 29, 2010

Time to re-examine who's working in our schools?

Baltimore city school officials have grappled in recent months, with having to explain how employees who fill obscure roles in schools end up facing criminal charges, or how those who have past criminal, civil, or serious allegations aren't red-flagged. 

It started in July, when City College "contractor" Ryan Coleman was charged with sexual assault of a student. Last week, Tyree Miles, a "temporary" employee was accused of attempting to sell a weapon to a school police officer on school grounds. And this week a "volunteer" at a school was charged with egregious allegations relating to sexually abusing a 14-year-old special ed student.

In each case, the school system had some explanation of why each accusee went undetected: each had passed a background check; the hirings were done at the school level, presumably by the principals, who have the autonomy of staffing their schools; in the most recent case, the boy's blind mother requested that her son have the accused mentor in the school.

All of the questions of hiring practices resurfaced last week as we were also reporting that a principal was removed from her school after an investigation into who she had on the school's payroll.

The school has yet to respond to questions of whether their hiring practices and policies need revisiting, and if hiring at the school-based level needs a bit more oversight.

I'd like to know you if our readers think this was just a bad stretch or a call to action for the school system to re-examine who they, directly or indirectly, are allowing to work with children in city schools?

Posted by Erica Green at 4:53 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 27, 2010

BTU gears up for round two

The Baltimore Teachers Union released Tuesday a revised tentative agreement that it plans to have its members vote on in the coming weeks. I obtained the contract shortly after it was released to building representatives last night. It was nicely color-coded to highlight changes from the original and sections that will now be featured more prominently. The fully revised contract can now be viewed on the BTU website.

There were very few new details in the contract, but union officials did seem to make a valiant effort in providing specifics of the contract's most radical initiatives. But, the provision that was at the heart of the agreement's opposition to the contract--how teachers would be evaluated--still remains incomplete because a new evaluative tool that will be used statewide has yet to be drafted. Reporter Liz Bowie wrote a story last week describing how the state has hit some recent snags in establishing that tool.

The city school board voted to extend the union's contract through Nov. 30, which means teachers will have a month to decide whether the revisions were enough.

Do you think they are?

Posted by Erica Green at 10:49 AM | | Comments (55)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 22, 2010

City students to plant trees, host fall festival this weekend

If you're looking for festive and fall-inspired activities this weekend, we received the following notice from the school system about some options.

Continue reading "City students to plant trees, host fall festival this weekend" »

Posted by Erica Green at 2:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 21, 2010

Baltimore reduces black male drop out rate

Black male under achievement has been a national issue for decades, but Baltimore reported some progress yesterday. The overall rise in the graduation rate is bing led by black boys. The data is on the city school webpage.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 1:27 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 19, 2010

Did 'Superman' defeat the BTU contract?

I joined a group of Baltimore City teachers and educators from around the region Monday at the Landmark Theatre to view the controversial new documentary, "Waiting for Superman," a film whose exposure of longstanding failures in public education has recently spurred a negative discourse in the district.

Last week, Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, cited the documentary, in part, for the defeat of a radical, reform-centric contract that teachers voted to reject. She said the contract was proposed at a time when "fear, frustration and distrust are at an all-time high," adding that "the situation has not been helped by the movie 'Waiting for Superman' and the teacher bashing that has occurred since its release."

In his first public statements about the movie since its release, city schools CEO Andres Alonso said the movie's "fundamental truth is effectively right" in that poor, black and Hispanic children should not be prisoners of their ZIP codes when it comes to access to education. He said that fundamental truth "transcends any other aspect of the movie I might have revisited."

Of the movie's effect on the contract vote, Alonso said: "We should try very hard not to scapegoat anyone. Given how the voter turnout was, we should respect that it was an extraordinary difficult decision to make." 

The viewing Monday was hosted by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, which also engaged viewers in a discussion after the movie. Teachers I spoke with did not overwhelmingly think that the movie affected the contract, but many said that while the film raised great points about the state of the teaching profession, they hoped director Davis Guggenheim is planning a sequel.

Continue reading "Did 'Superman' defeat the BTU contract? " »

Posted by Erica Green at 2:44 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 18, 2010

Former BTU President weighs in on proposed contract

Sharon Blake, former president of the Baltimore Teachers Union and city teacher of 36 years, shared her views last week on the recently proposed and rejected union contract.

Blake, a longtime rival of current President Marietta English, joined the opposition in challenging the contract's long-term implications and even brought up an interesting point not yet raised in the debate about what will become of the union with all the autonomy and career ownership being presented in the new contract.

Blake and English ran against each other three times for the BTU presidency. Blake defeated incumbent English by two votes when the women first squared off in 2000. Blake was president until 2002, when English won the position back.

English most recently defeated Blake in 2008, when Blake tried to recapture her seat. She's stayed off the radar ever since.

Read below, for her thoughts:

Continue reading "Former BTU President weighs in on proposed contract" »

Posted by Erica Green at 8:51 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 15, 2010

Union and district leaders to regroup, resell BTU contract

The proposed Baltimore Teachers Union contract failed to garner the majority support from the 2,600 educators who voted this week on whether to send it to ratification. Union and district officials said they are confident that once they give teachers more time to digest the contract's radical changes, it will pass with flying colors. 

Our editorial board weighed in, agreeing with BTU  President Marietta English's take that the defeat of the contract, which educators voted on Wednesday and Thursday, was just a "bump in the road."

However, details were murky Friday about how union and district leaders will address the hundreds of teachers who said they not only needed  more than two weeks to comprehend the contact, but more specifics on how its initiatives would be implemented and paid for.

In a follow-up story about the defeat, schools CEO Andres Alonso provided some insight into how much more information teachers may get in the coming weeks. Alonso has declined to speak publicly about the contract since it was presented two weeks ago, saying he did not want to risk violating labor laws by influencing the vote. Union officials said they are looking to hold another vote by the end of the month.

In a Friday morning press conference, Alonso seemed to believe that a combination of more time, more communication and motivating more teachers to vote will lead to victory. He asserted that any teacher who was voting against the contract solely because it did not contain specifics on how teachers would be evaluated is respectfully "shortsighted," and those educators probably wouldn't vote for it anyway.

Union officials agreed, but added that they will spend more time communicating the contract and will take members' suggestions back to the negotiating table for some "tweaks."

I caught up with English at the Quest teacher's conference Friday morning, where she said she planned to use the venue to engage about 1,000 teachers in an impromptu town-hall meeting to discuss the contract. She said she was feeling "positive," about moving forward and ensuring that members' concerns were addressed before the next round of voting.

I'm assuming a stronger, more concrete plan on how to garner support for the agreement will emerge as the two teams go back to drawing board next week.

But, teachers I spoke with Friday said loud and clear that if the district presents the same contract, they should expect the same result.

What do you think it will take to get union members to vote for this contract? 

Posted by Erica Green at 6:28 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 14, 2010

Baltimore teachers are at a crossroads today

The day has come when Baltimore city teachers will decide whether to accept or reject a radical contract that will overhaul the current pay and evaluation system that has existed in the district for decades.

It has been a rather anti-climatic two weeks leading up to the vote today, which will take place from noon- 3 p.m. at Polytechnic Institute. While vocal supporters and dissenters have publically spoken out against the contract, of the dozens of teachers I've spoken with in the last few weeks, the majority said they'd rather have their voices heard in their ballots.

What the decision seems to have come down to is whether teachers are willing to take a leap of faith that an incomplete evaluation system will complement or hinder the new initiatives and hefty pay-raise opportunities outlined in the new contract.

We have covered the details to the extent they were available. We paid special attention to how teachers will be evaluated, and the safeguards outlined in the contract specifically targeting balancing the power of principals.

We covered the protests (an online petition to delay the vote had 170 signiatures this morning.)

Our editorial board has weighed in, and their support of the tentative agreeement has been dutifully challenged in  our op-ed pages. We have polled our readers on whether the city is moving in the right direction.

I have spoken to many teachers whose voices have been, and will continue to be heard in the coming days and weeks. I am heading over to Poly for the vote, and will post updates via twitter:

The contract has been the topic of intense debate among city teachers, right up until early voting last night. Hundreds of teachers went to the BTU headquarters to cast their votes, and conversations outside the headquarters varied from, "It's too good to be true," to "It's just that good."

Either way, Baltimore city teachers are at a crossroads today. And despite what our coverage has lent to the discussion--and I have noted the criticisms--a city teacher who is against the contract,  said it best:

"Teachers will have to decide today whether this contract reflects a career they want in Baltimore."

Posted by Erica Green at 10:25 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 12, 2010

Ehrlich and O'Malley get emotional in debate about city schools

The debate between gubernatorial candidates Gov. Martin O'Malley and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. that aired on WJZ-TV  Monday night was expectedly heated, as the two prepare for a second showdown in November. Any Marylander with a television has seen the attack campaigns that both candidates have employed, and last night the doomsday commercials were simply played out before a live audience.

But, there came a moment when both candidates seemed to go off script, trembling at times as they argued over the needs and accomplishments of Baltimore schoolchildren.

Ehrlich, a Republican, opened old wounds, engaging Democratic incumbent O'Malley in an evocative debate about the 2006 attempt to have the state take over 11 failing schools from Baltimore City.

The former governor implied that O'Malley, who was serving as mayor of Baltimore at the time and seeking Ehrlich's seat, conspired to block the state's takeover for political gain. Democratic leaders pushed a last-minute bill to halt the takeover. Ehrlich called it a "disgusting episode," and said he had never seen political leaders "protect a monopoly" the way they did.

“You just had to protect those numbers, you couldn’t allow those schools to go charter or private…because it would have been embarrassing in an election year,” he said.

O'Malley went on to take Ehrlich's seat in the race for governor later that year. Ehrlich said meanwhile, children in the city were "being denied their constitutional rights" to quality education, regardless of their race or where they live.

“This is really emotional gov," Ehrlich told O'Malley.

O'Malley agreed, firing back that the 2006 battle over city schools "wasn’t about protecting the monopoly, it’s about protecting the progress.” The governor said Ehrlich emphasizes too much the struggles of the poor, black students in Baltimore in his education platform, and went on to tout the city's gains on the Maryland School Assessments and the district's ability to narrow the achievement gap between city students and their counterparts.

He challenged Ehrlich on naming and visiting the schools he has seen made progress.

“Frankly, I would put our progress up in the city of Baltimore, and our rate of improvement, up against any kids in any major city in America," O'Malley said.

These were the highlights in what turned out to be a sizeable stretch of education debate. You can view the debate in its entirety here. Coveniently, the station has broken down the debate into segments and by topic, so it's easy to find. The Sun's political reporters also provided exhaustive coverage of the first square-off between the two, including a fact-check.

Definitely worth checking out. And of course, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Posted by Erica Green at 5:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 11, 2010

Contract designed to balance principal autonomy, union leaders say

A story that ran in Saturday's Sun focused on how the new proposed BTU contract will affect principal autonomy and how the contract was designed to provide safeguards against subjective and arbitrary evaluations by principals, an issue that the union said it has been fighting for years.

There is strongly-worded language in the new contract outlining how the union plans to protect teachers from 'capricious' actions on the part of principals, and union officials said it was on purpose. Personally, it seemed that the contract outlines more directives for principals (such as trainings and professional development) than consequences. But either way, it's clear that this topic was a large part of the conversation at the negotiating table.

Principals will play a key role in the new contract, due to be voted on Thursday, as they will be responsible for not only evaluating teachers in a new way--but those evaluations will carry significant pay increases. Moreover, the contract will give teachers an unprescedented amount of autonomy at the school level with the newly proposed "school-based options."  

I spoke with Mary Beth Britt, a teacher awaiting an appeal hearing on her evaluation, who didn't make it into the story. She appealed her principal's decision to not renew her contract in May and is still waiting for a verdict. She spoke at a recent school board meeting, tearfully urging the school board to investigate principal behavior and to review evaluations. She told the board that her principal issued her non-renewal letter before he had observed her, fudged the dates on her evaluation, and skirted the process.

Of the new contract, Britt offered this perspective:

“It’s just amazing that the old contracts seemed to have protocols, and they have been able to do this anyway," she said. "The things that were done were almost criminal. Principals can take away our right to earn a livelihood. It’s devastating. The new contract, of course, has to be better. The new language can only help."

She ended very poignantly: "But, actions speak louder than words."

Posted by Erica Green at 12:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 8, 2010

Ehrlich would cut school funding, Baltimore to be hit hardest

Our political reporters wrote a story yesterday outlining gubernatorial candidate Bob Ehrlich's plan to cut school funding to offset rolling back the state's sales tax. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake responded to the plan, defending the city school system as an investment worth making for the state. An e-mail to schools CEO Andres Alonso seeking his thoughts went unanswered. Ehrlich's position comes at a time when Maryland school districts, the city especially, are celebrating some landmark accomplishments. It also coincides with the release of a report this week by The Center for Public Education, which outlines how public education funding is in crisis.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:15 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 7, 2010

Views on teacher contract from outside the city limits

There's a variety of views streaming in about the proposed new contract now being debated by city teachers who must vote whether to ratify on October 14.

First, from the conservative think tank at the Fordham Foundation, Chester Finn, opines on the proposed contract, saying he doesn't think it is all as radical as it sounds. Second, there is a column in the Washington Post that takes the opposing view and compares schools CEO Andres Alonso favorably to leadership to the south of us.

Posted by Liz Bowie at 5:31 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 5, 2010

BTU deploying reps to answer contract questions, may provide more time before vote if necessary

Officials with the Baltimore Teachers Union said Tuesday that they have deployed field representatives to schools across the city to answer the flood of questions that have been spurred by the recently proposed contract, due to be voted on for ratification Oct. 14.  

The union has also said that if necessary, it would consider pushing back the voting date so that teachers could cast an informed vote. The contract has until the end of the month to sink or swim.

Loretta Johnson, executive vice president of the AFT and longtime city schools union rep, told us today that the union is fully aware that the contract has spurred more anxiety than relief as teachers try to sift out the details. But Johnson said that the union wants as many questions answered as possible.

"We’re out there in the schools trying to explain it," Johnson said. "We want teachers to understand, there’s nothing to hide.”

She said that if there has been some delays in teachers receiving a crash course on the contract, it could be because some field reps have been denied access to schools by school leaders.
But the union notified North Avenue, and schools CEO Andres Alonso alerted principals that they should be allowing field representatives in buildings, and he also released the contract's negotiating team to schools to field questions.

Just a note: I've seen your questions, and am trying to get as many answers as possible. I would encourage teachers to go here and read the contract, as I've noticed many of the questions are answered in the 10-page tentative agreement provided on the Web site.

By the end of the week, I hope to answer the questions I've seen most frequently with information I've been able to track down in the reporting process.

Keep the feedback coming.

Posted by Erica Green at 1:06 PM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Baltimore City

October 1, 2010

BTU tentative agreement is now available

As some comments on the blog have noted, the tentative agreement is now up on the Baltimore Teachers Union website. The contract is so different that it may take some time for members to read and understand it completely. Once teachers have read the agreement,  please keep commenting here. I would hope the blog will allow for a full discussion of both the pros and the cons of the proposal before the vote on October 14th. I encourage both the union and school system leadership to answer questions that appear in the comments to this post.


Posted by Liz Bowie at 8:37 PM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Baltimore City

September 30, 2010

Baltimore City wins national school board excellence award

Baltimore City is the winner of the 2010 Council of Urban Boards of Education (CUBE) Annual Award for Urban School Board Excellence.

The award was presented to the district this past weekend at the CUBE organization's annual conference at the Baltimore Renaissance Harborplace Hotel where national leaders in urban education gathered to addressed the challenges facing urban school districts.  CUBE member districts total more than 110 urban school districts in 35 states and the Virgin Islands. The award is presented annually to a school district by the National School Board Association.

"Baltimore City Public Schools is a shining example that school reform can work in large, diverse urban school systems," said National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Executive Director Anne. L.  Bryant. "Many critics said the district's problems were permanent and unfixable. But school board members and educators in Baltimore refused to accept that grim prognosis and thanks to their vision and hard work, Baltimore City Public Schools are now thriving."

Continue reading "Baltimore City wins national school board excellence award" »

Posted by Erica Green at 1:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Baltimore City