Decade-Long Baltimore School Rehab Project Kicks Off in June

The next decade is going to be a busy one for the Baltimore, Maryland school system as its $2.4 billion facilities rehabilitation plan goes into effect. District CEO Andrés Alonso announced earlier this week that over the next ten years, the district will be giving a face-lift to 136 school and administration buildings and closing down 26 others.

Under the first phase of the plan, closures will begin at the end of this academic year when Baltimore Rising Star Academy, Garrison Middle, Patapsco Elementary/Middle, and William C. March Middle will close their doors for the last time. District officials are yet to determine which other schools will be targeted for closure, but Alonso warned that finalizing that list will involve a number of very painful decisions. In the end, however, the students will all benefit from better facilities, and the school system will enjoy savings from using its space more efficiently.

But as news spread across the city, parents and educators in schools that could face closures grappled with the uncertainty of their students' futures. "I'm totally shocked," said Dana Jones-Hines, who has a junior and a freshman at Northwestern High School, which is recommended for closing in 2015-2016. "I had anticipated my kids graduating from here. I am just mind-boggled right now."

The main factor that will be used to determine which schools should be closed is performance and utilization rate. The four that will be shut in June 2013 all have utilization rates of between 20% and 50%, considered to be sitting squarely in inefficient territory. According to the Baltimore Sun, all four also have persistent performance issues and have graduation and student achievement percentages below the district average.

For the most part, the reactions of the staff working at the targeted school were muted. Debra Powell, who works in special education services, says that the rumors that the school won't be around much longer were there even when she joined the staff a year and a half ago. Although she expressed disappointment at not being allowed to continue at Garrison until her retirement two years from now, she thought closing the school was a good choice.

Even though the school is now much safer than it was in the 80s, it lacks many modern amenities and offers substantially fewer after-school and enrichment programs than other schools around the city. As for the students, Powell though that they'll as well in a different – and better equipped – school as they did in Garrison.

Officials and advocates said the sacrifices that school communities face will mean facilities better suited to serve students in the 21st century — from basics such as drinking water and temperature control to state-of-the-art amenities like technology hubs and culinary kitchens.

"There are not many moments in your life when you realize you are standing on the edge of something great," said Sherelle Savage, a parent advocate with the Baltimore Education Coalition, who spoke through tears at the news conference.

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