Kenwood shake-up under way


In a bold attempt to revamp troubled Kenwood High, officials have told teachers that they will have to reapply for their jobs if they want to stay at the eastern Baltimore County school next year.

Even then, teachers will have to fit the principal's "profile" and be chosen to keep their positions. Those who want to leave or who are not retained will be placed in other schools.

Officials say the nearly unprecedented action is an attempt to turn around a problem school and perhaps forestall state intervention. But teachers and union officials call it an attempt to intimidate faculty and blame them for the school's troubles.

Although this isn't the first time a Baltimore County school has turned to "zero-based staffing," Kenwood is the largest school to impose it and the first to do so without putting a new program in place.

"We are a low-performing school. Our attendance is awful. Our achievement is awful," said Principal Frederick Cogswell. "I want staff members who realize that the kid is the client and that we're here for customer satisfaction."

One teacher, who spoke under condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said she and many or her colleagues were shocked and felt betrayed by the plan.

Teachers got wind of it late Friday and were officially told Monday at a faculty meeting. They must make their intentions to stay or go known by Tuesday. Teachers who request transfers submit a list of at least 10 preferred schools and are guaranteed a position at one of them.

Teacher's union president Ray Suarez said the plan has more to do with managing the school than with educating the students. "The bottom line is just intimidating teachers to get them to kowtow . . . and to blame all the problems on the teachers," he declared. "I suggest that the administrators of this school should be zero-based, too, and the faculty should have to vote [on them]."

Kenwood, with 1,300 students, serves the largely working-class neighborhoods of Essex and surrounding communities. It has a minority enrollment of about 15 percent. Attendance averages about 88 percent, Mr. Cogswell said, well below state standards of 94 percent for satisfactory and 96 percent for excellent performance. Its ninth-graders did not meet state standards on functional tests last year and its 11th-graders were satisfactory only in reading and writing.

With a high rate of teen-age pregnancy, Kenwood is also the only county high school with a day care center for the children of students. Mr. Cogswell said the center is full, with 18 babies.

"The Kenwood teacher has to recognize that an extraordinary effort is needed" to turn the school around and move Kenwood up from its standing as the lowest-performing county high school by statewide standards, the principal said.

He said "the type of person we need" includes teachers who want to be at Kenwood, who exhibit confidence in Kenwood students, who believe in active, rather than passive, learning, and who are "tenacious in getting to parents," he said.

But he denied that he is blaming the school and community's nagging problems on anyone. "This has been going on for a long, long time," he said. "I'm into fixing things."

Northeast area Superintendent Stephen Jones said it is obvious that Kenwood needs change. "The bottom line is, if we don't come up with something in the next two years, we're going to have the state coming in," he said. Under the state Department of Education's performance programs, the state can take over schools that fail to meet state standards and show improvement.

The state has ordered the "reconstitution" of five Baltimore City schools, and county officials say they fear that Kenwood could be a likely target for such intervention.

"The one variable that we can manipulate is the teachers," Dr. Jones said. "We're asking everybody to dip down in their souls and see if they want to be here. For those who don't want to be part of the change, it's an opportunity to move on. There's not going to be anything negative associated with this."

He said that in addition to staff changes, Kenwood is instituting business partnerships and changing its ninth-grade teaching style to a friendlier approach.

The school also has two small magnet programs, the highly academic International Baccalaureate program and a Sports Academy.

Before the latest Kenwood staffing plan, several magnet high schools and one elementary school that instituted a new instructional program used zero-based staffing to assemble faculties committed to their curricula. Hillendale Elementary is undergoing the same process this year, as it becomes a magnet school, the Halstead Academy.

But Mr. Suarez, head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said he sees no rationale for instituting the process at Kenwood. He called it an abuse of the administrative-transfer process, which allows principals to move a few teachers a year who do not request transfers.

He said "chasing people out of a building is not for the kids," and that administrators were being cowardly by adopting such a process.

One teacher, who asked not to be identified, said she hoped the plan was a sincere effort to get the best teachers for Kenwood, but feared it was a way for administrators to get rid of teachers without going through the union grievance process.

Mr. Cogswell said he has no idea how many of his 80 teachers will leave. Through normal personnel channels, 18 teachers have requested transfers, but they can change their requests now. Nontenured teachers are not eligible to transfer.

"I have some fears," said the principal. "I am scared to death that I will lose some quality people . . . but I don't think I will have a problem getting people to come to Kenwood."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad