School innovations

The Baltimore Sun

In a system that loses about half of its students between the ninth and 12th grades, Baltimore's "innovation" high schools are small beacons of hope. The five schools that have evolved from a decade of high school reform efforts are retaining more students until they graduate - helping to realize one of the key goals that schools CEO Andres Alonso has set for his tenure. That's why he and other school officials are right to extend these schools into the middle grades in an effort to replicate success.

The innovation schools were launched about four years ago to gradually replace comprehensive neighborhood high schools, which were considered too large and impersonal. With about 400 students each, the innovation schools can pay attention to individual student needs, and students, in turn, feel more strongly connected to their teachers and to the schools. As a result, in addition to fewer dropouts, these schools can boast better attendance and fewer disciplinary problems.

Officials insist that these schools work because they have to be clear about their mission and vision - and students, as well as faculty, choose to be there. Most important, each entering ninth-grade class has a maximum of 150 students, allowing an easier transition to high school and making it more likely that even troubled students will stay for four years.

Mr. Alonso and other administrators are confident enough of the model that they want to include middle-schoolers in the mix in six new transformation high schools. This next generation of new schools, which will add 1,000 spaces, has drawn more than 1,200 applicants so far, a reflection of their promise. Now, it's up to school officials to ensure that the student experience and the results justify the heavy demand.

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