Help wanted: One tough school chief


THE DEBATE about how education will proceed in Baltimore City rages unabated. I am thankful to Adrian W. Rich of Baltimore, who wrote a thought-provoking letter in response to Saturday's column about a proposed amendment giving the state total control of Baltimore's schools.

"It is reprehensible that certain politicians and band-wagoning media persons are only now expressing their 'vehement' opposition to the proposed City-State education partnership. ... My argument is this: if the State feels that it can perform the essential task of educating Baltimore's children better than Baltimore City has been able to - then let them."

I've heard this argument the past two weeks. Let's let the state take total control of Baltimore schools, for the sake of the children. (Contrary to what Rich believes, City Council President Lawrence Bell stated emphatically he was all for a city-state partnership in education. He conceded that schools need better management. He was opposed to the amendment that would give the state control of the city's education. That nice "partnership" thing would be over.) The "let's do it for the kids" line of reasoning assumes those opposed to a state takeover don't care about the children in the city's schools. But we do. We care so much that we want to see them well-educated and then, if they choose to remain in Baltimore, live in a city where they have some say in their children's education.

We care so much that we haven't given up hope that the city might be able to turn its educational fortunes around. Everybody agrees that city schools need better management. So let's give Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the school board another shot at naming a superintendent. Input from state school Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and the state school board would be welcome, because the person who turns around Baltimore's schools would have to be the pedagogical equivalent of Josef Stalin.

He or she would have to be a whip-cracker not hesitant to demote or fire anyone who does not get results. This superintendent would be someone who wouldn't hesitate to visit the homes of chronically truant students and have a chat with their parents.

"Folks," this superintendent would say, "your child hasn't been to school in a month of Sundays. Exactly what kind of parents are you?"

Such a superintendent would be, in other words, a son of a bitch. But our son of a bitch. Such a superintendent would not be popular, of course. Many would demand his or her resignation. If that happens, it would be with the understanding that the state would then take over control of city schools.

There are other things city residents could do rather than flop back, prop our feet up and then say, "Let old Nancy Grasmick take over running city schools." It's our city, we've got to get involved. I'd take a wealth of good PTAs over a city-state partnership any day of the week. Of course, parental involvement is so lax that one city middle school teacher told me he's taught at some city schools that have no PTA. How do we cope with such a revolting development? Here are a couple of ideas:

Adopt a school. City State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy says she tTC has done it. Private businesses and government agencies throughout the city should consider doing it. They all have educated workers who are needed in the classroom: tutoring, reading to students, providing those role models they all need. Employers should consider the benefits of letting their workers take two to three hours off a week to participate in an adopt-a-school program.

Read Jane M. Healy's book "Endangered Minds" and demand that educators everywhere read it. Healy, who holds a doctorate in educational psychology, describes how today's children think differently from those of an earlier era and suggests ways that parents can better prepare them for school. Then we can get on to the more difficult task of convincing the parents of city school children that reading and talking to their children during their first two years of life are not an option; they're imperative. Several studies have shown that parents who do this send their children to school more prepared to learn than those parents who don't.

The key to overcoming Baltimore's educational crisis may lie in teaching the parents of the city's schoolchildren as well as the children themselves.

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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