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New Contract Codifies Charter-City Schools Partnerships

Posted on by Carol B


Thanks to a collaborative volunteer effort spearheaded by Supporting Public Schools of Choice, Baltimore City Schools has a strongly improved new contract for public charter schools in the district.


Leaders from the Coalition of Baltimore Public Charter Schools, which represents the 24 charter school operators in Baltimore, reviewed the existing operating contract and developed proposed improvements.  Attorneys from DLA Piper and Maguire Woods volunteered their time and expertise to prepare school leaders for joint negotiations with City Schools.


Why it Matters


All Baltimore charters operate under a contract intended to spell out the relationship between City Schools and the charter operator. The contract governs the conditions in which schools operate and how the school system reviews their performance and considers them for renewal at the end of each contract term.


The previous contract did not adequately reflect the relationship.  Rather, it was a boilerplate document developed for use in a range of procurements. It was silent in some important areas, particularly on how charter schools would be evaluated for renewal, and vague in others, such as personnel.  As a result, it served as a poor reference when problems arose.


Now, for the first time, the charter contract specifically describes the timing and process for renewing each contract, establishes a high standard for school performance and outlines accountability measures.


Having a clearer, more focused contract that includes stronger accountability measures will give the school system more confidence, and we are optimistic that it will give schools more autonomy to build stronger programs.


We also are optimistic that this new contractual relationship with public charters will foster the creation of more high-quality public school choices for Baltimore students and their families.



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It doesn’t come quick or easy: Approving the creation of Baltimore charter schools

Posted on by Carol B

It’s not easy to create public charter schools in Baltimore.  In March, seven groups submitted applications for new schools. After an arduous review process, the Board of School Commissioners recently approved three of those proposals.


Green Street Academy, currently serving students in grades 6 to 8 as a transformation school, will convert to charter school status in fall 2014.  The school will eventually serve grades 6 through 12.


The Lillie Mae Jackson Carroll School for girls will enroll 5th graders in fall 2014 and grow to have grades 5 through 8.  This is an exciting collaboration between educators at Roland Park Country School and the Bryn Mawr School that will bring their experience to Baltimore City public school students.


Banneker Blake Academy of Sciences and the Arts, an all-boys middle school with a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) focus, will open in 2015.


Two years ago, we saw eight applications, with none approved.  A reporter wondered whether this might mean that City Schools’ leaders had taken a turn “against” charters.


To the contrary.  Rather, the results indicate that the process has high standards; it should NOT be easy to create a new charter school.


A thorough process


The vote by the Board of School Commissioners was the final step in an approval process that started in March and required a great deal of the applicant groups, beginning with a cumbersome and demanding application.  They had to clearly articulate a strategic vision and the capacity to implement it – both in written plans and during in-depth interviews. Prospective school founders had to show a strong founding board and a commitment to serving all students in the district.


The staff of the school system’s Office of New Initiatives reviewed the applications to ensure all required elements were submitted. One of the seven applicants withdrew and one failed the first technical review.  The other five applicants proceeded to a full review.


A team of at least four reviewers from the Charter and New Schools Advisory Board read and scored each application.  The reviewers included City Schools staff and members of the advisory board.  City Schools staff from key departments, such as Special Education, Finance and Teaching and Learning, also read each application and provided input to the reviewer teams.


The review team interviewed each applicant group, submitting key questions to the group in advance.  At the conclusion of the interviews the team of reviewers discussed each and voted on its recommendation: approval for two applicants – Green Street and Lillie Mae Jackson Carroll.  Those recommendations, along with the underlying rationale, were then sent to City Schools Chief Executive Andres A. Alonso.


In the most public part of the process this year, five groups made presentations to the school board. Those groups included the three successful applicants  and:




Finally, the CEO made his recommendations to the board, agreeing with the advisory board’s decision on the Green Street and Carroll schools. Dr. Alonso also considered additional factors, including community interest in an all-boys school, and recommended a three-year charter (not the full five-year charter) for Banneker Blake, with a requirement that the school undergo performance reviews during that shorter contract term.


On June 11, the school board approved the three new charters.


The process was long and required reviews by many different people – both within the system and outside of it – to ensure that it was thorough and fair.


As a member of the advisory board, I believe it plays an important role in working to meet a critical goal: that the plans approved have the highest probability of creating high-quality public school seats for Baltimore students. (Read more about the advisory board’s role here.)


Moving forward

The Charter and New Schools Advisory Board, which reviewed all of the applicants, should play a continuing role in monitoring the progress of the newly approved charter schools.


The advisory board should work with City Schools staff to ensure that there are clear benchmarks that the team from Banneker Blake must meet to demonstrate the school is ready for operations in 2015. They should also monitor the group’s progress in meeting those goals.


The advisory board should also review the last rounds of applicants and consider ways to strengthen future applications by providing technical assistance or perhaps by matching new groups with existing, proven charter school leaders.





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City Forever

Posted on by Carol B


Las weekend 312 Baltmore City Students took part in commencement for the Baltimore City College High School Class of 2013.   My son was among them and I am grateful. I am also bursting with pride.


The class we celebrated is accomplished and diverse. The school they leave, but will not forget, is steeped in tradition and evolving to serve its scholars. Some of many things that exemplify “City” were evident in the graduation ceremonies. Seniors said the pledge of allegiance to the flag in Latin, as have all previous graduates. The world class choir performed as did the concert band. The class president choked up when she instructed her classmates to “turn your ring”.


The most frequent comment about City College I hear from other parents is about teaching: “The teaching is great.” “Every teacher my son has is excellent.” “The work is challenging and interesting.” In its most recent example of evolving to maintain excellence, City College became an International Baccalaureate World school. The IB is rich, cross disciplinary, and notable for many student-lead individual and group projects. Saturday, over 30 graduates were named as candidates for a full IB diploma; over 120 rose because they will receive IB certificates. This represents significant growth in students exposed to this rigorous course of study.


Reflecting the primacy of teaching at graduation, principal Cindy Harcum (City College ’88) took the stage at commencement and her first words were, in essence – First things, first: Will the faculty please stand as they are the heart of a City education? They did, to thunderous applause from the students who love and respect them. This moment was also an example of why she is such a strong school leader.


One of City’s biggest strengths is its large and devoted alumni association. This group has supported and pushed City College to stay excellent through countless waves of education reform in Baltimore. One alum was instrumental in nurturing the modern speech and debate program, which has produced national champions this year. Principal Harcum noted with pride that she had just spent an evening with 200 members of the class of 1963.  The school spirit exhibited throughout commencement assures that this tradition of support will continue.


City College boasts a full marching band. A recent theatre production was student directed and produced. Numerous sports teams represent the school. My son can be proud of both doing well academically and of being a member of the football team which had a sweet victory over arch rival Poly this year.


At Baltimore City College High School, my son and his classmates have had a world class education, and the opportunity to thrive. Baltimore City Schools has one of a few IB programs in central Maryland. As City Schools continues on its path of improving the quality of education throughout the system and at every level, it is important to hold up the examples of excellence in our midst. City College is one. Thank you City Schools, Principal Harcum, Alumni Knights and class of 2013.


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Diversity and choice key for city schools

Posted on by Carol B

Read a letter from SPSOC’s leaders about the demands facing the next superintendent of the Baltimore school system and the need to foster new academic approaches.

Read the full article here.


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Increasing quality seats: A Look at the DC Public Charter School Portfolio Strategy

Posted on by Carol B

A recent blog post by Joe Siedlecki, Program & Policy Officer, at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, highlights the current DC Public Charter School Board model of using a portfolio strategy to increase quality seats.

“The charter board’s basic strategy is simple: Use data to 1) identify schools that work and 2) grow those schools. Using this strategy, the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) last week voted to increase enrollment at nine schools. The two key measurements the school board looked at were school performance and school demand.”

Thanks in part to the strategy, more than 1,300 additional students in DC will have access to Tier 1 public schools next year.

Learn more about the portfolio strategy here.

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How Charters Build the Strength of the City Schools Portfolio

Posted on by Carol B

There is big news coming out of Annapolis, where the General Assembly is poised to pass legislation to give City Schools the means to launch a major 10-year facilities improvement plan. Congratulations to Baltimore City Schools CEO Andres Alonso, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the army of advocates led by the ACLU-Maryland and the Baltimore Education Coalition,  which together achieved a groundbreaking (pun intended!) milestone that has the chance to profoundly change education in Baltimore.


Many schools will be rebuilt, others will be replaced with new facilities, and some buildings will close to bring the system more in line with student enrollments.


There has been much in the news lately about the painful downsizing decisions being made in Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities. Baltimore, too, has a public school infrastructure built for many thousands more students than the number currently served. But City Schools’ recent work sets it apart from other cities in key ways. Substantial research documented the condition of our schools and the need for consolidation and renovation.  Community support was cultivated through hundreds of meetings. Most important, City Schools and its partners have ensured that they will deliver on the promise of improvements in the entire system.


Charter School Facilities

It is a good moment to highlight how Baltimore’s public charter schools wrestle with facilities issues.


A little background: Public charter schools are funded under a formula devised by the Maryland State Board of Education, but by law, there is no funding provided directly for facilities. Some charters are in buildings owned by City Schools; others are in a range of other types of facilities.


Charter schools located in buildings owned by City Schools pay rent to the district, which they budget out of their per-pupil allocations.  City Schools have included these schools in their plans, an indication of how charters are an integral part of the school system. Charter schools have done amazing work to raise millions of dollars in private investment to make significant improvements to facilities owned by City Schools, creating vibrant, welcoming learning environments in previously vacant buildings.


City Neighbors High School, for example, raised private funds to renovate the former Hamilton Middle School building. The schools created a great space for their students and ensured that the residential neighborhood is not dealing with the potential nuisance of a large vacant building in its midst.

Facilities for Baltimore’s Public Charter Schools

33 charter schools in Baltimore City

16 charter schools are housed in City Schools buildings.

–Six were converted from traditional public schools

17 charter schools in buildings not owned by City Schools

–Mix of rented and owned spaces

–Some hosted by larger institutions – e.g., Coppin University (Coppin Academy) or Living Classrooms Foundation (Crossroads School).



Seventeen charters are in non-city-owned facilities. The Jacobs study of City Schools’ facilities estimated that it would cost more than $122 million to replace them. Again, some charters have done great work to improve facilities. In perhaps the most creative example, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women has renovated the former Y building on Franklin Street and will transfer ownership of that facility to City Schools.


City Schools and local foundations have facilitated some of this work through arrangements that recognize capital improvements in its rent arrangements and by providing loan guarantees.


As the General Assembly finishes work on the financing plan, we look forward to seeing dozens of new and improved public school buildings across the city. We also look forward to a day when all of our public schools – including our charters – have the modern, inviting spaces all of our students, teachers, families and staff need and deserve.


Carol Beck

Director, Supporting Public Schools of Choice

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Public Charter Lotteries Are Popular – Again

Posted on by Carol B

Last week most of Baltimore’s public charter schools held admissions lotteries, and interest was once again high, with many schools receiving far more applications than they could accommodate.


At Midtown Academy, 20 students were selected from 275 interested families. At Patterson Park Public Charter School, 526 vied for 100 seats. At Creative City Public Charter School, which will enroll its first students this fall, 140 students applied for 88 seats. And Baltimore Montessori Public Charter received 925 applications for 35 seats.


The lottery process is required by law to ensure that all students have access to public charter schools. And it’s important to note that for these lotteries, public charter schools are allowed to ask students only for their name, address and age.


While it is likely some families put applications in at more than one school, the numbers nonetheless make clear that there is high demand for these school options in Baltimore.


Of course, having lotteries means there will be many disappointments. Some families will be shut out entirely from charters. Others may have to choose between a traditionally managed neighborhood school and a public charter school far from home. A family can also be disappointed by both a lottery and/or by seeking to attend a school inside a zone that does not include them.


The lottery numbers underscore the vital need to continually improve traditional schools and replicate successful charter models, which will result in more good options for our children and less disappointment. By creating more quality options, we improve the odds for Baltimore City students.


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Challenges Ahead in the Charter Renewal Process

Posted on by Carol B

The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners recently made decisions on renewing contracts for 25 “schools of choice” – 18 public charters and seven others with operating contracts.

For the most part the board affirmed the recommendations of the New and Charter School Advisory Board. In one case, the board was unable to reach a decision about whether Johns Hopkins University should continue its operation of Baltimore Talent Development High School. The School Board is also gathering more information before making a final determination on closure dates for some schools that did not have their contracts renewed.

The City Schools have adopted a “portfolio” approach in which a range of different kinds of schools are supported – traditional schools operated by the system along with public charters, transformation and other contract schools, which are operated by outside entities. As it works to make this approach ever more successful, the recently completed renewal process highlights some important challenges.

Timing of the renewal decisions

Despite the best efforts of many, final decisions on renewals and non-renewals were not made until early February. This has led to the unfortunate circumstance of having what one teacher calls “lame duck schools” operating for the final months of the current school year and next year (read an essay about that here). Most importantly, the renewal decisions came well after the conclusion of the school choice process in which students apply to schools for the coming year. The renewal process should be scheduled so that all aspects of the review are completed and a recommendation sent to the Board of School Commissioners by October of a renewal year. Renewed schools would have the good news early and families would know which schools will be closing the following year.  Of course, a decision to close a school will lead to difficult final months, but making those decisions early will provide more options for families and teachers who must relocate to a new school.

Gathering data on a timely basis

This year, for three schools with high-school grades, City Schools CEO Dr. Andres Alonso recommended a delay of one year in making a determination on contract renewal. This was due in part to delays in receiving needed graduation rate data from the Maryland State Department of Education (data availability also contributed to the timing issue noted above). We need to determine how to adjust the timeline for review and making contract decisions so that adequate graduation data is available.

A fair renewal process

The review process was thorough, and decisions were based on a range of indicators, both qualitative and quantitative in three key areas, academic achievement, climate and management. City Schools should convene school teams who have completed the process and seek ways to make the review tools more sensitive to the individual approaches of our diverse and growing portfolio of schools. In particular, some transformation schools are serving overage and under-credited students; assessing their progress fairly may require a different metric. Finding the right metrics to judge progress will be crucial to recognizing the successes and challenges of these specialized schools.

Build on strength and grow

The renewal process provides ample evidence of the strengths of the 16 schools recommended for 3- and 5-year renewal terms. The district and the Charter and New School Advisory Board should identify ways that these schools can contribute to increasing the number of high-quality classroom seats in Baltimore — through partnership, growth or replication. We should identify key areas of improvement that will ensure that the schools renewed for three years are renewed for five years when next evaluated.

For example, The Baltimore International Academy received a five-year renewal. Its unique language immersion program is in high demand.  Leaders at the school and the district should plan for additional seats at this school or for a second site.

Improve the autonomy/accountability balance

The leaders of the Coalition of Baltimore Public Charter Schools recently pointed out to the Board of School Commissioners that the schools being renewed for five years have shown that they have an effective and sustainable model. These schools have proven themselves and seek less day-to-day direction from the district. To do this, they should be able to create a new charter operating contract that is clear both on expectations for performance and the decision-making authority the schools are intended to have under the law.

Recently, school board Chair Neil Duke reiterated that charter schools are a valuable part of the district as it becomes more of a choice district.

Yes they are.  And with the additional information provided by the renewal process we need to make sure we are ensuring the quality of those choices and creating more options for Baltimore families.

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Advocacy Day raises the profile of Baltimore Public Charter Schools.

Posted on by Carol B

A note from Celeste Perilla who has been helping Baltimore Charter school communities – parents and school leaders – understand the charter environment and to become spokespeople for their schools.  Along with other advocates and families from other counties, Baltimore’s charter schools went to Annapolis to share with lawmakers their school pride and to ask that we talk more about what charter schools contribute to public education.


Baltimore public charter advocates gathered in Annapolis on Thursday for Charter School Advocacy Day showcasing the presence and achievements of public charter schools in Maryland. Organized by Maryland CAN, the Maryland Charter School Network and the Coalition of Baltimore Public Charter schools, over 100  Baltimore charter school leaders and students traveled to the state capitol to join education advocates across the state for a rally, meetings with state lawmakers and  press conference.


Lawmakers were greeted after their morning session by hundreds of charter advocates who rallied on Lawyer’s Mall.  Baltimore’s KIPP step team energized the crowd while charter leaders invited lawmakers to participate in charter advocacy day.


Charter leaders, parents and students also directly lobbied senators and delegates in their offices sharing personal stories about the importance of school choice and the innovative approaches to education that charter schools offer.


During an afternoon press conference, charter leaders shared the stage with state lawmakers. Parents from Patterson Park Public Charter School, Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, and Baltimore International Academy relayed compelling messages about the importance of school choice for their families and the inclusiveness of the charter school communities in Baltimore.  The diverse educational approaches of public charters were highlighted by young students from Baltimore International Academy, a language immersion public charter school, who impressed lawmakers by reciting the pledge of allegiance in fluent Russian, Chinese and French.

See here for a coverage of the events by WBAL.

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A Careful Renewal Process for Charters and other Schools of Choice

Posted on by Carol B

After many months of work, the Baltimore City Schools’ Charter and New School Advisory Board forwarded its recommendations to Dr. Alonso about renewing the charters and contracts for 25 schools. Dr. Alonso presented his recommendations to the Board of School Commissioners last evening.

As a member of the Advisory Board, I was part of the group that did a thorough review of the schools’ applications and developed renewal recommendations. As part of the process, City Schools’ teams made site visits and talked to staff, students and families. And we reviewed data on academics, school climate and administration.

The school board will consider our recommendations to make decisions on the future of more than two dozen schools, including 18 public charters, four transformation schools and three other schools operating with agreements with the systems.

In all of our work, we were guided by one critical principle: ensuring that every child in Baltimore attends a great school.

Most of the schools seeking renewal are doing excellent work, as evidenced by consistently strong academic performance, a positive climate for families and strong operations. But we also identified several schools that are failing to provide the high-quality education that Baltimore students need and deserve, and a number of them may not be renewed. Click here for the full list of renewal recommendations.

During the review process, we found some common themes. For example, successful schools were clear on their mission – what they were trying to achieve and how to measure it. Unsuccessful schools typically lacked a clear, strategic vision. Successful schools also tended to have higher parent engagement than unsuccessful schools.

This was the first renewal review process in three years, and it is important to note that this new process was far more rigorous and thoughtful than those used in the past. I am proud that Supporting Public Schools of Choice helped to develop this better renewal process. Because of support from foundations, SPSOC was able to facilitate, with City Schools, the workgroup process which considered local needs, studied practices elsewhere and developed the current rubric.

Some schools and the communities they serve will be disappointed; the decision to sever the relationship between an operator and a school community is extremely difficult. But we must consider the big picture: this renewal process is an important step in ensuring that more and more Baltimore kids get the great education they need and deserve.

The Board of School Commissions will hold a public hearing on the recommendations on January 30, 2013, and is expected to make final decisions on these renewals in February.

Click here to read City School’s report on the renewal recommendations.

Carol Beck, Director



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