Standing in a new library named in his honor yesterday, Baltimore school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey turned to thank the person who had made it all possible -- his wife, Freda.
As director of the schools' employee assistance and wellness program, Mrs. Amprey and her staff of three created the $15,000 facility -- and voted to name it the Walter G. Amprey Employee Lending Library. School employees struggling with problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction and marital woes can find resources there.
"Happy adults make happy children," Dr. Amprey said after cutting the ribbon that officially opened the library. "This program is helping our employees, and it has the best therapist I know leading it -- my wife."
Dr. Amprey said there has been criticism of his wife's position, which pays an annual salary of $65,000. But he defended her work yesterday saying, "I don't see it as a conflict. The library is an honor, a commitment we made to what we do."
The Amprey Library, with more than 500 self-help books and videos such as "Family Intervention," "The Courage to Heal," "Co-Dependent No More" and "I'll Quit Tomorrow," is open to all school employees, from administrators to bus drivers to teachers, Mrs. Amprey said.
It is designed to be a resource for prevention of serious emotional or substance abuse problems through education, said Saunders Ebuwei, a therapist in the school system's 2-year-old employee assistance program.
The cost of the library books and videos came out of the federal Safe and Drug Free Schools Program, administered to the city schools through the state. Last year, the city received about $483,000 from the program.
Mrs. Amprey said about 500 city school employees receive counseling through the employee assistance program. About 250 are teachers, and nearly 80 in that group have drug and alcohol abuse problems, she said.
Those figures reflect how education professionals are affected by the ills of urban society at large, she said.
The library is in a corner of her husband's alma mater -- Edmondson-Westside Senior High School in West Baltimore -- where the wellness program is based.
School board President Phillip H. Farfel said the library is part of an effort headed by Dr. Amprey to promote professional development in the school system. He predicted that it will be frequently used by the system's 10,977 full-time employees.
Irene Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union, was not so sure.
Pointing to some employees' fear of revealing their personal problems to an agency headed by the superintendent's wife, Ms. Dandridge said it remains to be seen school employees will be willing even to check out self-help books.
"There is a certain amount of resentment in the school about Mrs. Amprey, and that might keep people from using the library freely," she said. "There is nothing shameful about a lending library; I just feel people would be hesitant, and I can't blame them."