Students who return to Walbrook High School this fall may not recognize their old haunt in the heart of "the Junction." Classmates wearing sports shirts. Teachers in the halls. A police officer at the home of every student who takes a sick day.
There will be a new principal. And a new name. Bleachers, long missing from the athletic field, will be in place. And skipping the cafeteria lunch to grab a sandwich at the corner deli will be out of the question.
Welcome to the Uniformed Services Academy at Walbrook.
Targeted by the state last year for takeover because of poor test scores and scarred by violence, the Northwest Baltimore school will be operated by a private, nonprofit group headed by Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.
The long-awaited takeover became official this week when the city school board approved the consortium's choice for principal -- Audrey Bundley, himself a product of city schools.
Bundley, 38, leaves his post as principal of Greenspring Middle School and replaces former Walbrook Principal Marilyn E. Rondeau, who has yet to be assigned a new position.
"We're going to make a change to the school. We're going to clean the place up," said Col. Alvin A. Winkler, the head of the Police Department's Youth Bureau. "We want to make it fun to learn. But you can have fun without carrying a knife or a gun to school."
Parents have some reservations about the project, which transforms Walbrook -- on Edgewood Street in an area known as Walbrook Junction -- from a neighborhood school into a citywide magnet, where students will choose one of four themed acade- mies: police, fire, maritime or business.
Students enrolled at Walbrook will be allowed to finish their high school careers with traditional courses without choosing a discipline. But after four years, students who live in the Walbrook community who don't wish to participate will be bused to other schools.
By 2002, every student -- the school has 1,340, but can handle up to 2,000 -- will be wearing sports shirts emblazoned with an emblem: gold for police, red for fire, blue for maritime and green or white for business.
The first attempt to transform Walbrook came in April as part of a new schools initiative -- a program that allows independent operation of publicly financed city schools. The program is designed to bring resources and innovation to troubled city schools in exchange for giving the operators complete decision-making power. It also makes the schools eligible for private grants, and the consortium now has $150,000 in private money.
The Walbrook initiative failed on its first attempt after angry parents, teachers and students complained that the plan would force out students who didn't want to choose one of the proposed disciplines. Bundley said those concerns have been dispelled.
"We're not taking a school from the community," he said. "I think we're going to be bringing the community to the school."
Calaway Braxton, president of the school's parent-teacher organization and a member of the school's board of directors, agreed that the new plans make sense. But he said he wants to make sure students who can't get into the city's college preparatory schools will be given a chance at the new institution.
"It's the kids who don't qualify for citywide high schools that we've dropped the ball with," he said. "Help the kids who are not qualified, and then we have done something at Walbrook."
The academy will incorporate elements of traditional college preparatory and vocational schools.
City officials have stressed that no teachers will lose their jobs, but Winkler said he expects to lose many -- 25 percent to 30 percent -- who don't want to participate in the new program.
Gary Marx, the associate executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said the Walbrook academy appears to be unique -- not just because of who runs it, but because it targets law enforcement. Most magnet schools, he said, deal with traditional college preparatory classes or vocations, such as arts and music.
Walbrook's board of directors includes Fire Chief Herman Williams Jr. and an assortment of academics and business leaders, including Walbrook's first principal, the head of an umbrella community association and an executive of the Rouse Co., which developed Columbia and the Inner Harbor.
Poor graduation record
The group may have a tough job ahead. In 1997, fewer than one-third of the 435 students who had entered Walbrook as freshmen graduated. And the school hasn't offered the most inviting high school environment.
Students use computerized identification cards to enter the building -- alarms sound if the student has been suspended. Doors are locked and monitored during the day, and security officers use closed-circuit cameras to check the building.
Bundley attended city schools, graduating from Southwestern High School on Font Hill Avenue.
He graduated from Coppin State College and received a doctorate in education at Penn State University. He has taught at several Baltimore schools, including Harlem Park Elementary.
Bundley said the education system has "only gotten better in spots" since his days in city schools more than 20 years ago. "Now we're trying to make it better all over the place."
Pub Date: 6/27/98