As ice pelted and coated our cars in the North Avenue parking lot last night, things got pretty chilly inside the city school board meeting, too. And I'm not talking about the physical temperature (though, this being Baltimore City, that wouldn't be surprising; seven schools closed Monday due to either lack of heat or water).
Highlights of the chilly confrontations:
1) The Rev. Dr. Cecil Gray takes on Brian Morris et. al.
Board members frequently voice their annoyance when one group takes us all or most of the 10 slots allotted for public comment, preventing others from being able to speak. Last night, the folks at Northwood-Appold Community Academy (NACA) signed up for seven of the 10 slots, protesting -- ultimately successfully -- Dr. Alonso's recommendation that the board extend the charter school's contract for two years. They wanted, and got by a 5-4 vote, a five-year contract renewal.
The meeting had started, by board chair Morris's watch, 23 minutes late (the closed session preceding the open meeting ran late, presumably because the board members were debating the charter issue). Morris wanted to speed things along and tried to persuade the NACA group to speak all together in one five-minute slot, rather than individually in seven three-minute slots. Gray, NACA's founder and president of its governing board, wasn't having it. "Our theme at NACA is freedom and democracy," he told Morris. Alrighty then....
Gray was the last of the seven speakers, and he paid no attention to the time limit. He vented about the nonsensical process for evaluating charters. He claimed that NACA's test scores last year were the highest in the history of Baltimore for a school taking the MSA for the first time. He gave a laundry list of prominent names supporting the school, from City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy to former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders to former city schools CEO Walter Amprey. When he started comparing NACA's low suspension rate with that of other charters, it was enough for board member Neil Duke, who said it was "time to move on" and Gray had gone "too far astray."
2) Buzzy Hettleman takes on policy process, and Andres Alonso takes on Hettleman
Hettleman wanted to table the policy to give city students preference in admission to city schools because of some last-minute wording changes that he said neither the board nor the public had a chance to review. His motion to table lost by one vote, but he kept at it. "We're voting on a document that's not public," he said. He was upset that the Legal Aid Bureau, which submitted suggestions on the policy a few weeks ago to make sure that it didn't involuntarily discriminate against vulnerable students in transitionary housing situations, hadn't had a chance to review the final language. "The policy is fine but we set a terrible precedent in the future in terms of the integrity of the policy development," he said.
Alonso, coming to the rescue of a staff member being grilled by Hettleman, said that the wording changes were minor and could be adjusted in the future if necessary. In the meantime, current eighth-graders are waiting to hear what high schools they've been accepted to, and it's the gist of the policy that ultimately matters. "I believe it's been an injustice that ... hasn't been remedied in the past," Alonso said. When Hettleman started interrupting him, the CEO interrupted right back: "Can I finish, Mr Hettleman?" And if you saw my story today, you already got the most memorable quote of the evening, when Alonso told Hettleman he was wasting their time.
3) Administrators play the title name game
The board approved Alonso's first Harvard hire last night: Jonathan Brice, who is a doctoral candidate at Harvard's Urban Superintendents Program (where the CEO got his doctorate), was named executive director for student services and school intervention. His new position sounds an awful lot like the job called student support services officer, currently occupied by Everene Johnson-Turner. But Johnson-Turner hasn't been to work in a few weeks, and several sources have told me she's out on medical leave. The system isn't confirming anything, only saying that the two titles are different.
Brice, a Mervo grad who did his Harvard internship under former Anne Arundel Superintendent Eric Smith, is currently an administrator for the schools in Duval County, Fla.
If that's not enough school board news for you, keep reading to get the names of the new Parent and Community Advisory Board (PCAB) members who were appointed or announced last night. Michael Carter, the chair who's been saying goodbye for months now, can finally retire.
PCAB members representing parent and community groups:
Dennis Moulden, a parent at Roland Park Elementary/Middle and Western High, reappointed to a second term
Tammatha Woodhouse, a parent at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle and a BCPSS employee
Representing students and families in Title 1 schools:
Theresa Bailey-Gwynn, a grandparent and BCPSS employee
Tony S. Jones, a parent at Harford Heights Elementary and William C. March Middle, also a BCPSS employee
Representing the Baltimore Council of PTAs:
Chequita Lanier, reappointed to a second term, a parent at Baltimore City College and the Claremont School, a BCPSS employee
Pat Muhamed, reappointed to a second term, a parent at Northeast Middle
Leslie Parker Blyther, a former PCAB member and a parent at Baltimore City College
Susana Barrios, a parent at Patterson Park Public Charter School
Ori Shabazz, an employee of Baltimore City Community College
Alternate community representative:
Reba Hawkins, a parent at Digital Harbor High and Govans Elementary
Representing the plaintiffs in the Bradford school funding lawsuit:
Helena Napper and Michelle Green (named by the ACLU)
Shirley Mills-Dower, Susan Takemoto and Genevieve Cooper (named by the Maryland Disability Law Center)
PCAB appointments are good for two years, and members can serve up to two consecutive terms. All candidates were interviewed by Alonso and went through a background check.