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Board may let city schools pick books Amprey introduces system ombudsman


The Baltimore school board, in keeping with its pledge to give more power to individual schools, is considering letting schools choose their own textbooks.

And new Superintendent Walter G. Amprey has designated an ombudsman who will be responsible for addressing parents' problems with the school system.

Both moves, which came up at last night's board meeting -- Dr. Amprey's second as superintendent -- target the Baltimore school system's bureaucracy. And both signal the new direction the board has been promising for more than a year.

School officials want to do away with the centrally approved list of textbooks used in Baltimore and most large school systems in Maryland. Instead, under a proposal that will come up for a vote next month, school principals would choose textbooks after consulting a school improvement team that includes teachers and parents.

The change would require a waiver from state regulations that hold the superintendent responsible for approving textbooks, said Patsy Baker Blackshear, deputy school superintendent.

Such waivers can be obtained as part of a school's improvement plan-- plans that must be developed to meet tough new state standards.

The proposal has been endorsed by parent organizations, the Baltimore Teachers Union and the Public School Administrators and Supervisors Association, school officials said. But some board members had reservations.

Board member Meldon S. Hollis said textbook selection was centralized in the first place to provide uniformity -- a key factor for an urban school system where students often move from school to school. And he questioned how choices would mesh with the school system's new curriculum.

And board vice president Stelio Spiliadis said such shifts should be part of a comprehensive move toward more local control -- not be put in place piecemeal.

School officials hope to have the change in place in time for books orders in January. The bulk of textbooks are ordered in May.

In other action, board members approved the new position of ombudsman, to be filled by Northwood Elementary principal Judson Wood. Mr. Wood will start as soon as a new Northwood principal is chosen, probably in a few weeks, Dr. Amprey said.

Mr. Wood's task will be to handle parent problems "right away" and serve as a trouble-shooter, Dr. Amprey said. "I think we can be more responsive," Dr. Amprey said. "He has carte blanche."

The superintendent also made Denise G. Borders the chief of Educational Accountability, a new division. Her job will be to put together information, such as test data and attendance and dropout statistics -- a commodity that has been in short supply in the city school system.

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