As Activists Rally, Baltimore to Decide Fate of Several Schools


Five schools in Baltimore, Maryland could face being shut down at the end of the school year while two others that the community rallied to save will remain open.

The proposed closures were presented to the school board by city schools CEO Gregory Thornton earlier this week.  Thornton would like to see four unused buildings turned over to the city and another two existing schools expanded to handle overcrowding.  He is also making a push for three- and five-year contract renewals for 12 charter schools.

Recommendations for school closures are made on an annual basis.  A number of factors are used to determine which schools should be added to the list, including academic performance, enrollment, and more recently, whether a building is being utilized enough for it to remain open, writes Erica Green for The Baltimore Sun.

Thornton’s suggestions will be open for public hearings in the coming months.  The school board will vote in January on whether or not to keep the schools open.

For at least one school on that list, Westside Elementary in Penn-North, there could be enough reason to keep the school open.  Del. Antonio Hayes believes the school is an anchor for the community that has already lost much, including the closure of its community center.  The other anchor in the community, according to Hayes, is a drug treatment center.

Thornton’s plan would have Westside merging with another elementary school in the area.

Maritime Industries was added to the list after a failed attempt to move the school to Cherry Hill.  The school consistently has low enrollment and attendance.

Baltimore Community High School was added to the list due to poor performance.

Earlier in the week, Thornton informed another school in the area, Renaissance Academy High School, that he had taken them off of his closure list due to a commitment stated by the school to improve over the next year.  The program is known for taking in students expelled from other programs, reports George Lettis for WBAL.

“It’s not just show up at school, read, take a test, pass a test move on,” Rachel Donegan with Renaissance Academy said. “These students really need some very deep social, emotional support and I think that’s what Renaissance has been doing.”

The school’s community partner, the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Social Work, began a push to keep the school open because it is the only high school in the Druid Heights-Upton community.  A total of $720,000 in federal funding was collected by the University of Maryland in an effort to help the school remain open.

A similar situation was found at Northwestern High School, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.  Crowds of parents and supporters came to rally and show their support for the school, arguing that closing the school would cause larger problems for the community because it would mean children would have to move schools and travel greater distances.

The MATHS charter school was added to the list after a review found trouble with its governance structure and operator capacity, as well as poor academic performance.  Similar issues were found at a second charter school in the area, Roots and Branches.

Westside is expected to close in 2018 while Baltimore Community High School is slated for closure in 2017.