Board approves creation of 5 middle-high schools

The Baltimore Sun

The city school board approved last night the creation of five new middle-high schools and signed off on a proposal to replace all or most of the staff at three underperforming schools.

The creation of the middle-high schools is a major initiative in Andres Alonso's first year as city schools chief as he moves to revamp the troubled system. Under a plan that was not made public until last night, the five middle-high schools will operate independently under contracts with outside operators, in a structure similar to charter schools.

In the coming years, Alonso wants to create two dozen such schools, with some preparing students for college, some offering vocational programs and others providing intensive intervention to those who are struggling. All of the schools approved last night are college-prep or career-prep. A presentation to the board said that the creation of new alternative schools will come later.

Facing a budget shortfall, Alonso has sought private donations to fund the initiative. He has not made public how much money has been committed to the system or by whom, but his budget proposal includes $3.5 million for secondary school reform.

The board approved contracts with four school operators, selected from among 20 applications, to open the five new schools. It also voted to allow an existing charter high school, Baltimore Freedom Academy, to expand to include grades 6 through 8.

The new schools, slated to open in August, will be:

Friendship/Tech Prep Academy. The operator, the Friendship Public Charter School network, runs five schools in Washington. It will open two schools in Baltimore in partnership with the University of Maryland. The schools will prepare students for college and careers in environmental science, engineering and technology, and bioscience and medical science.

In the organization's Washington schools, 90 percent of students graduate high school and 80 percent are accepted to post-secondary education, according to a presentation to the school board. The schools offer many Advanced Placement classes.

The Reach! School. This school will be run by Civic Works, Baltimore's nonprofit service corps. It will prepare students for careers in construction and allied health, partnering with Johns Hopkins Hospital and Associated Builders and Contractors of Maryland. Students will complete yearlong apprenticeships.

Knowledge And Power Preparatory Academy (KAPPA). The operator will be Replications Inc., which already runs two Baltimore high schools, New Era Academy and Renaissance Academy, as well as two dozen schools in New York City. The school will be modeled after the Knowledge Is Power Program, a well-regarded national operator that runs Baltimore's highest-performing middle school.

KAPPA will pursue accreditation to administer the prestigious International Baccalaureate program.

Baltimore Civitas School. The school will be operated by the Center for the Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, which already runs Baltimore Talent Development High. The school will have a public service theme.

Officials said applicants were evaluated on their organizational capacity, experience and expertise working in Baltimore or with youths in similar urban environments. All schools will start with sixth- and ninth-grade classes, adding new grades each year until all are served.

In one of its most action-packed meetings in years, the board also approved plans to require staff to reapply for their jobs at Dunbar Middle, Harford Heights Intermediate and Sinclair Lane Elementary.

All three of the schools must restructure under the federal No Child Left Behind Act because they have failed to make adequate progress on the state's standardized tests for several years. And administrators said all three school communities chose the restructuring option of replacing all or most of the staff, including the principal.

In earlier years, when city schools have restructured in this way, displaced staff members were guaranteed a job elsewhere in the system. But at least among principals, Alonso has indicated a desire to end what's commonly known in education as "the dance of lemons," when people who perform poorly at one school are transferred to another.

Union contracts make it difficult to terminate tenured teachers, and the presentation to the board said displaced teachers would be moved to other jobs.

Now that the city school board has approved the restructuring, the state school board must also sign off on the plans.

System staff also presented recommendations for school closures and reorganizations. Facing deteriorating buildings and declining enrollment, the board set out in 2005 to reduce the system's operating space by 15 percent over three years.

Now, in the third year of the process, many of the city's middle schools are already phasing out: Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy, Thurgood Marshall Middle, Robert Poole Middle and Harlem Park Middle are all scheduled to close at the end of this academic year.

Four more schools are scheduled to close in the summer of 2009: Hamilton, Canton and Lombard middle schools, as well as Thomas G. Hayes Elementary. Three middle schools slated for closure this year - Southeast, West Baltimore and Diggs-Johnson - would stay open one more year.

Other recommendations presented last night include transitioning Benjamin Franklin Middle to become a high school. The school would not admit a new sixth-grade class, and current eighth-graders could stay on for ninth grade. Maree Garnett Farring and Curtis Bay elementaries would begin adding middle school grades until they eventually serve children from prekindergarten through eighth grade.

Sixth-grade classes would be eliminated at three schools - William Paca, Gilmor and Furman L. Templeton - all of which would revert to regular elementaries, serving children through fifth grade. Gilmor and Templeton are operated by the for-profit company Edison Schools.

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