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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.

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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:

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2. Baltimore City teachers reject, then ratify landmark union contract--but the real story will come with 2011 implementation.

3. City reports record high for graduation rate, record low for dropout. Alonso is looking to sustain the numbers with another "Great kids come back" campaign in January.

4. Maryland Wins Race to the Top funds, and Baltimore gets largest share of federal funds for education reform

5.City student dies after falling from the back of a school bus. Bus training/ transportation policies may have been broken. School system says it will review policies on trasnportation safety--again.

6. Agreement reached in Vaughn G. Lawsuit- A U.S. District Judge accepted an agreement from the school system and the Maryland Disabilities Law Center, in the 26-year-lawsuit filed on behalf of several special-education students who said they were not being offered adequate services.

7. Snowpocalypse stalls school- City students missed nearly two weeks of school in the beginning of the year, after a blizzard dumped nearly 2 feet across Maryland. The missed days were referenced, in part, for stalled scores the district noted on the 2010 Maryland School Assessments.

What do you think were the top city schools stories of 2010?

Happy New Year!

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