|(Copyright 2006 @ The
Baltimore Sun Company)
If principals are the key to making schools better,
why not take some exemplary leaders in good suburban
schools, offer them $125,000 salaries and see if they
can turn around failing Baltimore schools?
The state did just that four years ago, and the
experiment has greatly improved Brehms Lane and William
Paca elementary schools, where test scores rose
significantly, the state school board was told
Two middle schools also saw progress, an independent
consultant said, but the changes have been more about
changing the culture of the school than about test
Calling the Distinguished Principals Program a
qualified success, the review by an independent firm
said the schools had better teaching, more teamwork
among staff and more parental involvement.
The program began in the 2002-2003 school year, when
the state school board decided to hire three principals
from Howard and Baltimore counties to take over Brehms
Lane and Johnston Square elementary schools and Hamilton
Middle School in the city. The next year, they added
William Paca Elementary and Northeast Middle School. The
principal at Johnston Square dropped out of the program
for personal reasons.
Even before the evaluation was released yesterday,
the General Assembly had decided to expand the program
to other school systems around the state next fall.
"It has been an incredibly successful program," state
schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said yesterday.
She acknowledged, however, that some of the results
suggest that reforming an elementary school might be
easier than a middle school, where the process can also
"It may take five years if you have a school in that
condition," she said, referring to Hamilton Middle
Scores at Brehms Lane took a significant turn for the
better. In three years, results for the third-grade
state reading test went from a 30 percent pass rate to
an 82 percent pass rate. William Paca saw a nearly
Northeast Middle School showed some improvement. For
instance, 44 percent of eighth-graders passed the state
reading test last year, compared with 30 percent three
years before. And 26 percent of eighth- graders passed
the math test, compared with 13 percent before the new
principal arrived. But those pass rates are still far
below the state average.
Hamilton Middle School's scores were largely
unchanged in reading. In math, the scores improved
somewhat, with 18 percent of eighth-graders passing
state tests last year, compared with 5 percent two years
But in important measures other than test scores, the
school has come a long way, according to the evaluation.
In an interview after the board meeting, Stephen O.
Gibson, the Howard County principal assigned to
Hamilton, talked about the changes he saw at the school.
He has since returned to Burleigh Manor Middle School,
one of the highest-performing middle schools in Howard.
Gibson said he was able to rekindle parent interest
and gave the PTA more prominence, including a
first-floor office. The school facility was improved
with help from the mayor's office and volunteers.