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Patterson High staff removal, academies OK'd


Ending months of wrangling and protest over the fate of troubled Patterson High, the state approved yesterday a city plan to remove the entire staff and divide the school into separate academic and career-preparation programs.

Approval of the plan, enabling the city to avert a threatened state takeover of Patterson, comes after state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick rejected the city's first two proposals to revitalize the East Baltimore school.

The city's new plan, based largely on guidelines that Dr. Grasmick sent top city school officials two weeks ago, drew praise from the state schools chief.

"We have every reason to believe that this framework will lead to the transformation of Patterson into an exciting place for students to learn," she said in a statement.

She also noted the emphasis on involving parents, alumni, community leaders, businesses and local colleges in developing and carrying out the plan "to make school improvement happen."

The 1,800-student school will be divided into four or five "academies,"each focusing on an area such as humanities, fine arts, technical education or career preparation. Students will select one of the academies, which will be phased in by early 1995.

The city will remove all 130 Patterson staff members before fall, then require them to compete for their jobs with applicants from inside and outside the district. Patterson staffers not retained will be offered jobs elsewhere in the system.

News of the plan's approval elated opponents of an earlier proposal to give control of Patterson to a Maine boarding school that stresses strict discipline, character-building and parent involvement.

Amid last-minute budget woes and overwhelming opposition from parents and teachers, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey abandoned the Hyde School plan three weeks ago.

"My daughter has gotten a beautiful lesson from Patterson," said Letty Herold, the school's PTA president and the mother of an 11th-grader. "You always hear you can't fight City Hall. Well, yes you can, and you can even be victorious. We were fighting for our kids and for their education."

Under the new plan:

* A state monitor -- appointed by and reporting directly to Dr. Grasmick -- will work full time overseeing reforms at Patterson.

* The school's principal, Leon W. Tillett Jr., and other administratorswill be replaced. Mr. Tillett is going on a sabbatical, Dr. Amprey said.

* Dr. Amprey is to appoint a direct liaison between himself and the school.

* Teams including administrators, teachers, parents, community leaders, alumni, area merchants and others will monitor progress for Patterson and for the programs known as "schools within a school."

* Partnerships will be forged with businesses, colleges and community groups to help design the academies and work with students.

Dr. Amprey said yesterday that although he still wishes he could have turned Patterson over to the Hyde School, he was hopeful that the new plan would turn the school around. But he predicted it will prove painful.

"We got this responsibility to make the school a better place," he said. "If it were easy, it would have been done. Whenever you go for drastic change, there's some risk, some pain that comes with real change."

Dr. Amprey had been criticized by scores of teachers and parents who said they had been excluded as the city moved ahead with plans to let the Hyde School run Patterson for five years.

In January, Patterson and Frederick Douglass High became the first targets of a new measure allowing state intervention in "academically bankrupt" schools beset by years of worsening academic performance, attendance and dropout rates.

In April, Dr. Grasmick and the state board accepted an improvement plan for Douglass that will divide the West Baltimore school's curriculum into programs including career and technology, entrepreneurships, music and premilitary.

The school also is creating a "family support center" offering services ranging from wake-up calls for students to employment training for parents. Douglass' plan stresses staff training to improve teaching, new summer programs for incoming ninth-graders who need remedial help and four-period days with longer classes.

Two reform proposals for Patterson failed. In April, Dr. Grasmick rejected a proposal to stave off state intervention by removing the school's staff. She said she supported that "bold" housecleaning but rejected the plan because it lacked enough specifics to guarantee improvements after a shake-up. Last month, the Hyde proposal died.

State officials had said that Douglass, on Gwynns Falls Parkway in West Baltimore, and Patterson, on Kane Street in East Balti

more, had declined steadily during the past several years and probably would not improve without the threat of state intervention.

Many schools throughout Maryland fall considerably shy of state standards. But the first potential takeover targets were two that Dr. Grasmick and other state education officials deemed most in need of outside help.

Both schools rank among Maryland's lowest in the proportion of students passing functional reading, math, writing and citizenship tests. Only 52 percent of Douglass students passed all the tests by 11th grade, compared with a statewide average of 93 percent. At Patterson, 77 percent of students passed all of the tests.

The state has broad powers to attack problem schools. For example, state funds could be withheld from school systems that refuse to comply with a takeover order.

And state efforts to revitalize problem schools will expand. The state began its intervention this year with high schools and will broaden the effort to elementary and middle schools next year.

Starting in 1995, the elementary and middle schools will be evaluated on how well students perform on attendance and on standardized tests.

The state will tell local districts which schools are failing each January.

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