- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

The superintendent of Prince George’s County public schools plans to establish small, specialized high schools by 2009 aimed at improving achievement and giving students a more personalized learning environment.

The nontraditional schools could be set up alongside the community college or Prince George’s Hospital Center, using existing buildings.

“I meet a lot of parents who feel they don’t have enough choices, and so they make the choice to leave the county schools,” Superintendent John E. Deasy said. “I want to give them a choice to bring them back. We also have a number of youths who drop out, and we want them back.”

The county Board of Education will decide what types of schools to establish, but Mr. Deasy said possibilities include single-sex and language-immersion schools, or schools based on “credit recovery” for students who are several years behind schedule.

Prince George’s County has the second-largest school system in Maryland, with 134,000 students. Montgomery County has the largest one in the state with 138,000 students. Baltimore County is third with 107,000.

Prince George’s County schools spokesman John White said a school could be located at the hospital or at Prince George’s Community College, giving students access to college-level courses.

“What if a small school was located at the hospital and students met all of their academic requirements, as well as worked at the hospital?” he said. “We certainly have a shortage of nurses. What if we started to generate our own?”

The common denominator would be small enrollment — around 350 students — and a specialized, personalized learning environment.

No new buildings would be constructed for the schools, which would be located in nontraditional spaces such as a converted office building, to eliminate capital costs.

The county would run and staff the schools, and receive the same amount of state money per student that normal public schools receive. Space, not money, will be the problem, the superintendent said.

The “new small schools” concept, as Mr. Deasy calls the plan, is part of his strategy to bring schools up to the level of neighboring Montgomery County. He also plans to give every high school a signature program and offer a minimum of eight Advanced Placement courses at each school.

As many as 83 of the county’s 205 public schools have failed to meet requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act for two years in a row and are designated as being in need of “improvement.” Last year the state superintendent placed the system on restriction because of failing test scores.

Enrollment in Prince George’s high schools is high, with some boasting as many as 3,000 students.

Mr. White offered several examples of what the new schools might look like. One is High Tech High School in San Diego, where limited enrollment and personalization have helped produce a student body that sends 99 percent of its classmates on to college.

About half of those High Tech High School graduates who go on to college are the first in their families to do so, said Grace Lee, the school’s special projects coordinator.

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