The Baltimore City school board held two public forums last week, garnering input about proposals that would lead to another year of drastic school-by-school ratifications. Based on recommendations from a recent city schools report, the plan would close one high school and incorporate career preparatory or international student programs at four other city schools.

School officials say Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship High School near Hanlon Park should close, crediting a declining enrollment, poor academic performance and low satisfaction in the community.

According to the report, nearly 200 fewer students have enrolled at the school over the last two years, and 30 percent less graduate. Less than 40 percent of IBE’s graduating seniors passed the English portion of the Maryland High School Assessments (HSA) this year, while only about half passed the algebra exam. Further, the report says too few rising ninth-graders rate IBE as their high school of choice.

The school’s insufficient performance is not based on a lack of resources, says the report, because the school has received $500,000 in additional funds over the last five years.

If the school board elects to close the high school, all students except seniors must transfer to other area schools. Graduating seniors would be allowed to complete their final year at IBE.

The closure, which would take effect during the 2011-12 school year if approved, is part of a multi-year overhaul of Baltimore City public schools under the leadership of CEO Andrés Alonso. Evaluations of the city’s lowest-performing schools prompted officials to close 12 and relocate or expand more than a dozen others since 2008. Analysis also led to the creation of several charter and “transformation” career prep schools.

By “creating new school options that have strong chances of success, expanding those programs that are already proving effective, and turning around or closing the school system’s lowest-performing schools that are not working for kids,” city schools plans to restructure the system one school at a time, said the report.

School board chair Neil Duke said last week’s public hearings are an attempt to “do more and do better to engage the community.”

A mere handful of people attended the forums and it was only at the second meeting that someone commented on the possible school closing.

Joy Bacon, a 10th-grade English teacher at IBE, who did not oppose the school closure, said most of her students, “have been set up for failure” because of poor communication between school administrators and teachers.
At the first hearing, all speakers—mostly educators and non-profit leaders ? supported the overhauls.

Four speakers from the International Rescue Committee and Association of Bhutanese in America praised the board for considering streamlined international student programs at two public schools—Moravia Park Elementary/Middle and Patterson High School.

Additionally, Deborah Brooks, principal at Moravia Park, thanked city schools for encouraging multiculturalism. “We have over 200 international students and there are 23-25 languages spoken at our school,” she said at the forum. “I’m excited we will be able to build on that.”

Two administrators from Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove supported city school’s proposal of more student career preparation and community services.

No one commented on the recommended changes at the last school—Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle—that would include an external operator and a new science, technology, engineering and math curriculum.

In sharp contrast to similar forums in the past, all speakers welcomed the board’s changes. School officials credit the more relaxed hearings to a “better-timed” process and regular community engagement.

The board will accept written public comments about the school closure and other recommendations until Dec. 31. They plan to vote on the measures Jan. 11, 2011.