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School accountability

The Baltimore Sun

The abrupt resignation of Maritime Industries Academy Principal Marco T. Clark last month has raised questions about how well the school has been performing and what kind of supervision Mr. Clark and the school received. Principals should be given as much autonomy and flexibility as possible in running their schools, but a certain amount of oversight is also necessary to maintain accountability. It's important for the school system to determine whether the right balance was struck in this case.

The school was created as part of the worthy and ambitious reform effort to break up Baltimore's large, underperforming neighborhood high schools, some of which had been plagued by violence, and replace them with smaller schools that were often focused on particular subjects or career paths. Maritime, which had been carved out of the former Walbrook High School, has developed a loyal following among its 300 students, who come from different areas in the city.

But allegations have surfaced that a student's grades were falsified to facilitate graduation and that a 12th-grade student was allowed to teach a junior ROTC class. Mr. Clark, who has tried to rescind his resignation and demand reinstatement, has denied the allegations through an attorney. But the school system is letting the resignation stand, pending further investigation.

Among the questions raised is how thoroughly the allegations were investigated originally by the area academic officer with supervisory authority over the school. Just in the last several months, at the urging of Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, who chairs a House subcommittee on maritime matters, the school was put under another academic officer with responsibility for charter and innovation schools. Although the move was designed to give the school more flexibility to develop a better maritime-focused curriculum, was some oversight lost in the transition?

Whether or not Mr. Clark, who was credited with helping to create a caring, learning-focused environment, was the academic leader he was touted to be, the idea of giving principals as much authority as possible should still be the rule. But the rule needs to be accompanied by careful oversight that holds schools accountable and reinforces the credibility of the system.

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