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Balto. County to lease new alternative school

March 30, 2007  •  source

Feeling pressed for time to open a school to help Educate hundreds of chronically disruptive students who are struggling to pass state standardized tests, Baltimore County school officials have approved a $43 million, 30-year lease with a Baltimore real estate firm.

The Secondary Academic Intervention Model School is scheduled to open in the fall at a large business park under construction along the White Marsh Boulevard extension in eastern Baltimore County. A developer began building the 50,000- square-foot school about a month ago.

The school, which will be the district's fifth alternative-education facility, is to offer intensive reading and math instruction for disruptive students who are failing statewide assessments. Students are expected to remain at the school for at least a full school year before returning to their home schools.

Dale Rauenzahn, executive director of the school system's student support services, said the district's officials felt compelled to choose the rental arrangement so they could launch the program as soon as possible.

"There are a number of students who are having extreme difficulty in reading and math," Rauenzahn said. "We can't wait three or four years to put this through the capital budget process. We needed a way to address this and keep it moving."

The school is being built by St. John Properties Inc. at the Baltimore Crossroads @ 95 business park. The lease arrangement is the company's first such project with a public school system, said spokesman Dennis Castleman. He said the company has for-profit schools in some of its business parks.

"We've done nothing quite of this nature," Castleman said. "They wanted to get this done as quickly as possible and put it in a location that makes sense. All the things came together."

Known by its acronym, SAIM, the school will serve up to 540 students from the central, northeast and southeast regions in grades six through 10.

According to school system documents, an annual average of 3,500 students in sixth through 10th grades have failed the statewide reading exam and about 4,900 have failed the math test. About 35 percent have failed the state's High School Assessments, which are a graduation requirement. The county's dropout rate is 4.28 percent, compared with a state standard of 3 percent, and its graduation rate is 84.7 percent, compared with a state standard of 90 percent, school system records show.

The SAIM program's goal is to reduce dropout rates by helping struggling students pass the state exams and enable them to excel in a regular high school.

The program is distinct from other alternative education programs that enroll students for a quarter or a semester before returning them to their home school. A typical day for students will include two periods of reading, two periods of math, and a period each of science and social studies, Rauenzahn said.

Each day also will include a period of personal development, which will include topics such as anger management, conflict resolution and how to deal with difficult situations. Students also will participate in community service.

The school will be broken down into five learning communities of up to 108 students, Rauenzahn said. The staff will include 50 teachers, 50 instructional assistants, a principal, two assistant principals, three counselors, a pupil personnel worker, six social workers, and a school resource officer or security worker.

Another team of eight teachers will make up a key component of the staff - and the program's objective, Rauenzahn said. These teachers will split their time between the students' home schools and the SAIM location to aid in the transition from the program.

"This transition is critical to making the program work," he said.

Start-up costs, which include staffing and furniture, will run about $6.4 million in the coming school year.

The county school board approved the lease deal this week. Rauenzahn said the school system hopes to open a similar facility for the 2008-2009 school year on the county's west side.

The district's other alternative education programs are the Catonsville Center for Alternative Studies, the Rosedale Center - which began sharing space three years ago with the Inverness Center after it was moved from its aging facility in Dundalk - the Meadowood Education Center in Woodlawn and the Bridge Center in Lansdowne.

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