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City awards grants for new schools


The Baltimore school system has awarded planning grants to four outside groups hoping to open new, small "innovation" high schools next year.

One school would be a Biotech Pathway Academy for students interested in careers in medical and health sciences, while another -- the Frederick Douglass Academy-Baltimore -- would be modeled after a successful school of the same name in New York City's Harlem.

"What we're looking for here is schools with themes that have a focus on rigorous academic preparation," said schools Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo, who has pledged to open six to eight "innovation" schools over the next three years.

The four outside providers were selected by a steering committee made up of Russo, city school board members, state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and foundation heads, among others.

Each will receive $20,000 in planning funds and must submit a more detailed blueprint by Nov. 25. The steering committee will recommend in December who should get the go-ahead to open a school. The Baltimore school board will have the final say.

The planning grant recipients are:

Community Law in Action, which hopes to open a school for 350 students called the Baltimore Freedom Academy. The school would use a combination of traditional and law-related curricula as well as hands-on learning. Community Law in Action has had a standalone program at Northwestern High School for several years.

Victory Schools Inc., a New York-based for-profit school management company that runs Westport Academy, a combined elementary-middle school in South Baltimore. Victory has proposed launching a Biotech Gateway Academy for 600 students.

Replications Inc., which has proposed a 260-student school modeled after the design of Frederick Douglass Academy of Harlem. Replications has created eight New York City schools since 1998, all of which have a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.

The Johns Hopkins University's Center for the Social Organization of Schools, which would implement a reform model known as Talent Development that is in place at some city schools. The new school would focus on individualized instruction and serve about 600 students.

Baltimore school board member J. Tyson Tildon, who serves on the steering committee that selected the winning proposals, said all four fell within the school district's guidelines for smaller, more rigorous and more creative programs.

"It provides an intellectual diversity for our children," he said.

Seven groups submitted proposals to open schools next year, said Leroy J. Tompkins, director of high school reform at the local nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence, a school system partner. A second round of proposals is being accepted for those wanting to open schools in 2004.

School officials have launched a districtwide high school reform effort that is being supported by a $20 million grant from the Gates Foundation and several local supporters. One part of that effort is to break down existing high schools into more manageable learning communities. The other is to create several new, small schools -- six of which opened this academic year.

"We wanted people to come back to us with proposals with different ways of thinking, thinking outside the box, break-the-mold kind of strategies," said Tompkins.

He said large neighborhood high schools, where the average freshman enters reading at a fifth-grade level, aren't working.

"We know that what we're doing now is not successful," he said. "You have to try something new. I think insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Let's open up the door and let some people try some different things."

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