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Four grade schools to test autonomy


Four Baltimore elementary schools will each get $25,000 a year for three years in private funds to put into effect individualized plans to improve the education they provide their students.

The awards by the Baltimore-based nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence for its Transformation Project are the city's latest experiment in school-based management -- the centerpiece of efforts by the Schmoke administration to reform Baltimore's underfunded and underachieving school system.

In September, the city began a five-year contract with a private company to manage nine so-called Tesseract schools, and two years ago the city initiated a "restructuring" program under which 14 schools are managed by committees of teachers, parents and administrators.

Under the Transformation Project, schools are being given broad authority in matters ranging from curriculum to the length of the school day. Traditionally, these matters have been decided by the system's central office.

"This is another strategic approach to achieving change in the classroom," Jerry Baum, executive director of the fund, said yesterday in announcing the project.

School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said, "Our whole thrust is to move schooling back to where it has to be if it is going to be successful. In that sense [the Transformation Project] is connected to all other re- forms."

But he noted there also were important differences between it and other efforts, including an outside funding source for its innovations, which he conceded offered "more flexibility."

The four schools receiving awards are James McHenry Elementary School in Southwest Baltimore; George G. Kelson Elementary School and Belmont Elementary School in West Baltimore; and Mount Washington Elementary School.

Money for the project is being provided by the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Foundation and the Abell Foundation.

Planned programs include the development of "buddy teachers" sharing knowledge at James McHenry to "restructuring through the arts" at Belmont.

Helen H. Beverly, principal of Belmont, said the school hoped to teach students "to read through all the songs they listen to, to learn math through all the rhythms they listen to."

The participating schools were chosen from an initial group of 32 that replied to solicitations sent out in November. A board of educators made up of local college professors and an education consultant has been assembled to provide direction and technical assistance.

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