City schools' news sunny

SIX DAYS into her second year as Baltimore schools chief, Bonnie S. Copeland paid a visit to The Sun yesterday. She looked considerably more relaxed than she did at the height of the financial crisis a mere five months ago.

We're accustomed to upbeat presentations from the folks on North Avenue, but Copeland had some unusually good news. To wit:


City students' performance on this year's Maryland School Assessments was excellent, given that the tests were administered at the height of the crisis in February. "It's a remarkable testament to our teachers," Copeland said.

The system will make its first loan repayment to the city on time Aug. 2 and will be able to scrape through the first half of the school year financially, albeit with larger classes.


Copeland is about to replace some ineffective principals in the secondary schools, refusing to countenance what she called the "dance of the lemons." That takes guts, but Copeland already has presided over two nasty rounds of layoffs.

With $13 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and another $7.5 million raised privately, the system is nearing the halfway point of a high school reform effort, breaking down the unwieldy schools into smaller, more manageable units.

More good news could be on the way July 16, when a major foundation decides whether to invest heavily in the city's badly neglected music, dance and visual arts programs.

Officials had feared more than a thousand teachers would depart after the winter of discontent. That hasn't happened - yet. Teachers still have a few days to give notice, but an exodus doesn't appear likely.

And after decades, the system apparently knows how many employees it has, who's temporary and who's being paid from public and private grants.

Moreover, said Copeland, the much-maligned and long-delayed "human resources management system" is up and running. Gone, said the CEO, are the computer consultants paid millions while few (including members of the school board) were looking.

"It's a hopeful time," said Baltimore's 12th schools chief since 1960. "If it were not hopeful, I wouldn't still be here."

Will she be here next July? Her one-year contract expired June 30.


Linked libraries idea worth checking out

Why shouldn't school, college and university libraries be open to the public - and vice versa? It's an idea Copeland and other city officials are toying with in Baltimore, and an idea that has reached fruition at the college level in San Jose, Calif., and at the elementary-secondary level in several cities.

Last week, San Jose's city and university library systems shared the Library of the Year award given by Library Journal. Their joint accomplishment: a state-of-the-art library that offers public access to a joint collection of 1.5 million items.

For the first time, city library patrons can check out books and materials from the academic collection, while students and faculty can request items from that collection at any of the city's branch libraries.

I mention this 11-month-old collaborative because it was the idea of former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer and former San Jose State University President Robert Caret, now president of Towson University.

Caret has spent his first eight months at Towson getting his sea legs, but he's known to be interested in exploring a similar collaborative here. And why not? The Towson public library is a few short blocks up York Road from the university.


Finding 'Goat' tale proves stubborn task

Try as I might, I haven't been able to locate My Pet Goat, the children's book President Bush was said to have read to a class of second-graders in Sarasota, Fla., for seven minutes after he was informed a second plane had crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The book isn't sold by, nor is it on the list of major booksellers like Barnes & Noble. It's not where it should be, between My Pet Fish and My Pet Hamster, in Books in Print.

Those seven minutes have been immortalized, of course, in Michael Moore's documentary film Fahrenheit 9/11. The president hasn't explained himself. Some say he didn't want to alarm the children. Others say he wanted to see how the story ended.

"With his wife a librarian, I can't imagine he wouldn't be reading something fabulous," said Debbie Nelson of Baltimore's Children's Book Store (which also doesn't carry My Pet Goat).

Nelson's boss, store proprietor JoAnn Fruchtman - and the Google search engine - offered another possible reason why the book can't be found: Bush was reading a story titled My Pet Goat from a reading textbook.