Schools like to be called academies


In an article Sunday on academies in Baltimore County, the principal of Johnnycake Middle School was incorrectly identified. The principal's name is Darryl Bonds.

+ The Sun regrets the errors.

In Baltimore County, schools are out. Academies are in.

Milford Mill High School started the trend last year to show "the divergence of subjects and skill levels," said Morris Hoffman, who was principal when the high school became the school system's first "academy."

Next year, at least three more may appear:

* Loch Raven Academy, the short name for The Loch Raven Technological Academy for Environmental Sciences, Performing Arts and Visual Arts, which is now Loch Raven Middle School.

* The Halstead Academy of Mathematics, Science, Technology and the Visual Arts, now known as Hillendale Elementary School.

* Southwest Academy for Arts & Science, proposed as the magnet part of Johnnycake Middle School.

Halstead and Southwest academies still are proposals. They were presented to the school board Tuesday night and are likely to be approved as magnet programs for next September.

When Halstead Academy opens, Hillendale will be history. When Southwest Academy opens, however, Johnnycake still will exist. That's because some schools are whole magnets and some, such as Johnnycake, are partial magnets.

Why, suddenly, do all these schools want to be academies?

"I have no idea why we are in love with that term," said Superintendent Stuart Berger. "You can't blame this on me. I don't know an academy from anything else."

"I just thought it sounded classy," said Loch Raven Principal Jack Wilson.

The first academy, dictionaries say, was in a garden near Athens where Plato taught. The term persisted through the ages, often used to describe high schools or colleges where specific skills or courses are taught -- hence military academies, police academies and academies of art.

An academy is also "a society of learned individuals united for the advancement of the arts and science and literature," according to the Webster's Third New International Dictionary.

Taking all of this into consideration, "academy" probably isn't a bad choice for educators trying to excite their students with new approaches to learning.

For the precise, an academy is usually a school above the elementary level. That would make it difficult for Hillendale/Halstead, which has kindergarten through fifth grades, to qualify.

But Hillendale Principal Ellen Rappaport said her school chose the name Halstead Academy "because we just thought that an academy sounded like a nice place to be. It sounded very sophisticated," she said. "We really are trying to change the image."

Halstead, by the way, is the street on which Hillendale is situated.

Johnnycake, too, is looking for a new image in planning the addition of a four-pronged magnet to its comprehensive program next fall.

"A lot of negative things have come to be associated with Johnnycake Middle School," said its new principal, Michael Bond. "We're starting out fresh and we wanted to emphasize that this would be a premier program for children in the southwest."

Both Hillendale and Johnnycake got on the fast track to becoming magnet schools last spring, when many of their students applied to area magnets Cromwell and Sudbrook, respectively. Because those schools had more applicants than seats, many applicants were turned away. That caused hard feelings among parents and students.

To soothe the parents, school officials promised more magnet programs, in some cases just like the ones their youngsters could not enter.

Southwest Academy, aka Johnnycake Middle, would mirror the four magnet strands at the successful Sudbrook: performing arts, visual arts, Japanese and math/science. Hillendale/Halstead would specialize in math, science and visual arts -- all linked to the latest technology, which is the draw at Cromwell.

Mr. Wilson said he couldn't remember how "academy" worked its way into his magnet programs' new name. But he was a bit chagrined to learn that other schools were intending to adopt the term.

Elaine Kolakowski, principal of Johnnycake Elementary School, said she wouldn't do anything different at her academy, a voluntary program offered to about one-fourth of her 500 students. It doesn't have a fancy title; it's known only as "the academy."

"The academy children" wear uniforms. "The academy children have some very strict conduct codes" and some additional schoolwork, she explained.

"It's choice within the school," Ms. Kolakowski said. The concept "seemed to fit the needs of the community. Our parents were interested in a well-disciplined, safe environment."

If the trend continues, one prediction Dr. Berger recently made to administrators may come true.

"There are no schools left," he said. "They are all academies."

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