The preliminary approval for Towson University to partner with the Baltimore school system to run four elementary and middle schools in Cherry Hill and one in Morrell Park holds substantial promise for reform. But the system has tried many reform efforts, with decidedly mixed results. What will be needed to make the promise of this latest proposal a reality is a coordinated, collaborative approach that respects the contributions of all partners.
The five schools at issue - serving students from prekindergarten through eighth grade - are already in some stage of required improvement because they are not progressing sufficiently under state and federal standards. Under the proposed plan, all five would operate under a single alternative governance board. They would remain under the control of the Baltimore school system, with the governance board run by the school system's chief academic officer and a co-chair from Towson University who would mostly manage day-to-day operations. In addition, representatives of each school's leaders and school improvement teams also would help govern.
Students would be exposed to a curriculum similar to that used in other schools, but they would spend considerably more time on reading and math as part of the plan to bring more students up to grade-level proficiency in those subjects. A major ingredient in the plan's success will be the quality of instruction. Some teachers have voluntarily opted out of this latest reform effort, while others could be transferred elsewhere. Those who remain will receive additional help to improve their effectiveness.
Another promising part of the proposal is the recruitment of an impressive group of seven additional partners - including the Fund for Educational Excellence, New Leaders for New Schools, Safe and Sound and Johns Hopkins University's Center for Summer Learning - that have participated, although mostly separately, in other successful reform efforts. Working together with established community groups, they should provide an array of academic and support services, such as after-school tutoring and recreational activities, to help augment and reinforce classroom instruction.
Any school reform effort can be undermined by internal or external forces, but if all these partners can remain cooperatively focused on sustained academic improvement, this latest proposal could offer a model of success for Cherry Hill and beyond.