Two of Baltimore's most talented principals will play a leading role in the state's privatization experiment at three failing city public schools.
Edison Schools, a national school management company under contract with the state, has hired the principals of Pimlico and Dr. Carter G. Woodson elementaries and one from Kansas to tackle the difficult job of reviving the three elementaries.
"We've been very fortunate to get some of the best and the brightest," said Dwight Jones, a regional vice president for the private, for-profit company based in New York City. "I think each of them has a unique talent that is going to be beneficial to the students they're going to serve."
Pimlico's Sarah Horsey will be Montebello's new principal, and Woodson's JoAnn Cason will run Gilmor. Darryl Bonds, a middle school principal in Wichita who has experience in Baltimore County schools, will take over at Furman L. Templeton.
They were chosen from more than 40 applicants who responded to Edison's ads a few months ago. The principals are recruiting their staffs and officially take over July 1.
Their hiring is a significant step for elementaries that have consistently ranked near the bottom in Maryland. Fewer than 10 percent of third-graders in all three schools scored satisfactorily in reading on last year's state exams. They showed some improvement on standardized tests this spring, but by then the state had decided to take control. The principals of these schools will be given positions elsewhere within the school system.
The district is seeking administrators to continue the progress made by Horsey and Cason at two once-troubled schools while trying to fill a half-dozen other principal vacancies.
Horsey has been praised for her single-minded drive to improve instruction that led Pimlico to score remarkable gains on state tests during her four years there. Cason won attention in one year for pioneering reforms that translated into tangible results in overall achievement at Woodson.
City school officials, while saying they will have to find the right successors, focused on the benefits of having both principals continue their work with children from economically depressed areas in Baltimore.
"These students are still Baltimore students, and any time the children are being served by excellent principals, we take that to be positive," said J. Tyson Tildon, school board president. "What will be a challenge to us is to make sure that what these two principals have started stays in place."
Baltimore pays principals $56,000 to $89,000 a year. Edison, which signed its city school principals up for a year with renewal options, typically pays $80,000 to $90,000 a year .
It was not the money but the challenge that attracted Cason and Horsey. Both told Edison that they liked the idea of hiring their own staff and were impressed with the company's technology initiatives, including laptops for teachers and computers for students to take home beginning in third grade.
"These children want the same thing everyone else wants. It's our responsibility to make them realize the American dream," Cason said.