Keeping an oasis

The Baltimore Sun

The KIPP Harbor Academy in Anne Arundel County has been on a roller coaster ride. Two weeks ago, the principal announced that the 2-year-old school would have to close for lack of space. Then County Executive John R. Leopold and schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell tried to intervene, helping to prompt a 3-2 vote last week by the school's board to keep the school open.

But any space solutions are far from settled, and the school's continued existence is now also threatened by a lack of qualified teachers. With such a promising start, everyone - from KIPP to county officials - should redouble their efforts to maintain this educational oasis.

The KIPP Harbor Academy has served minority and low-income students in the Annapolis area, raising reading and math scores since it opened in 2005. Among the reasons for the school's success are the commitment from the principal, teachers and other staff to an 11-month school year and the willingness of teachers to be available at least by phone until 9 p.m. on a typical school day to help students with homework. The school planned to add seventh- and eighth-grade classes to the existing fifth and sixth grades by 2009. But after a futile two-year search for space, Principal Jallon Brown told parents last month that the school would close this summer.

Mr. Leopold and Mr. Maxwell offered a last-minute intervention just before the board vote last week. But some of their proposals, such as renegotiating for space at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, have been deemed unworkable. And, in a major disappointment, Mr. Maxwell refuses to push what many consider the best solution, which would be to allow the charter school to lease empty space at Annapolis Middle School for the next school year.

In the meantime, uncertainty about the school's future has caused six of eight KIPP Harbor Academy teachers to seek other jobs, including at KIPP schools in Baltimore and Washington. Qualified teachers will have to be found within the next few weeks, or else the school may still be forced to close or lose its status as a KIPP school. Either of those alternatives should be unacceptable to county and school officials, who should now go back to the drawing board and renew their efforts to help revive a school that has ably served some of the county's previously underserved students.

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