SOLOMONS -- Baltimore's school board -- meeting in this tourist town to find a better way to educate the city's 110,000 students -- is contemplating a whole new high school curriculum and a shake-up at 27 of the city's poorest-performing schools.
The new high school curriculum would be designed to give students the skills to compete effectively for college entry or for a job and to help raise overall test scores of the district's graduates.
Fueling the initiatives are the prospect of more stringent state graduation standards and warnings from state regulators that many of the 27 schools were slipping and could become targets for state reform.
The board meetings here come amid steady criticism of Baltimore's schools, where dropout rates are the highest in the state and the skill levels of many graduates are low. This year, for instance, about 3,600 teen-agers graduated from the city schools -- only one-third of those who started as freshmen.
Board members began their three-day, year-end evaluation Thursday to set goals for the coming year and to craft the policies needed to carry them out. They expect to set up meetings throughout the summer, working with Baltimore community and business leaders, principals, students and parents.
"We are here to check out progress as we move toward our vision of putting our decision-making closer to where the children are in the schools. This year, we've added an emphasis on taking a hard look at results and holding our staff to the standards we set," said Phillip H. Farfel, president of the board.
Mr. Farfel said the board needs to focus its reform efforts on individual schools as well as demand higher levels of accountability from the staff.
Changing the high school curriculum will do two things, officials say: First, it will improve skill levels and, second, it will help raise scores by better preparing students for the Maryland Functional Test and for potential graduation competency exams. Overall Baltimore's test scores, while gradually rising, remain the lowest in the state.
Probably the most controversial part of the reforms is the plan to replace many principals at the worst-performing schools.
During this week's meetings, officials released a list of the 27 schools where changes are expected in administration and curriculum. Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he expects many changes in leadership at them. He said negotiations are continuing. Thursday, the board reviewed the status of many principals, and it has scheduled two more meetings of its personnel committee. The board also will attempt to fill vacancies produced by retirements.
Dr. Amprey said there would be transfers and demotions, although not as widespread as he had predicted last month.
"On first blush when we looked at the schools, we looked at the principals and we thought about leadership changes," Dr. Amprey said. "After having the opportunity to talk to the principals and to learn more about what was happening in those schools, we realized that changing the principals was not the solution for every situation."
Of the 27 schools, 14 are elementary schools, eight are middle schools and five are high schools.
The focus on the poorest performers in the system is not a one-time fix, said Deputy Superintendent Patricia E. Newby, who is coordinating much of the effort.
"We are making a commitment to constantly monitor all of our schools and to focus the human and other resoures on those that have significant needs," she said.
Administrators selected the 27 schools because of low and declining state test scores and attendance, using the same criteria as the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, school officials said.
They added to the list schools with high turnover rates and schools where the staff has had trouble maintaining a climate conducive to learning.
Some additional schools were chosen based on the mix of the staff members' experience levels. and the opportunity this reform effort would afford for providing training.
Some state, federal and foundation money will be shifted to these 27 schools to address their specific needs, said Mary R. Nicholsonne, associate superintendent.
These Baltimore schools are targeted for reform, including changing some principals.
Harlem Park Ele.-Mid.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
William H. Lemmel
Booker T. Washington