Over the public address system at Govans Elementary School, fourth-graders Karon Tarlton and Michael Smith had the honor of making the morning announcements March 14, including a quote from Walt Disney: "All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them."
Govans Elementary, which was facing state takeover as a failing school when Principal Linda Taylor arrived for the 2006-07 school year, is failing no more. A combined 85.4 percent of third, fourth and fifth graders scored in the proficient or advanced range on state-mandated reading assessment tests in 2013, up more than 3 percent from 2012.
In math, they scored even higher last year, 86.7 percent, though that was down about 3 percent from 89.5 percent in 2012.
Now, the school may be headed in a new direction that could benefit students even more. It may become a charter school.
With the support of Principal Linda Taylor, the Baltimore Curriculum Project, a charter school operator, is applying to make Govans Elementary a conversion charter school starting in the 2015-16 school year, subject to the Baltimore school board's approval.
Govans Elementary, with 385 students at 5801 York Road, would retain its status as a neighborhood public school funded by the school system, but would be privately run. The move is expected to bring the school more individual attention, and could create partnerships and much-needed funding, Taylor said..
The Baltimore Curriculum Project first approached Taylor, a former assistant principal at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School, when she came to Govans, but she rejected the idea then.
"At the time, this school was being looked at as a failing school," said Taylor, a former Army intelligence officer. "The [charter application] process was long and would have required a lot of effort on my part. I told them no, that I wanted to move the [test] scores. I wanted all of my efforts to be put forth in those areas, instead of being divided. I wanted to put all my energy into turning the school around."
That approach has paid off, Taylor said.
"We're one of the best-performing elementary schools in Baltimore City," she said.
Late last year, the Baltimore Curriculum Project again broached the idea of a charter school and Taylor was more receptive.
"We've had some success," she said. "We need more — more than I and my staff can provide with [school system] budget cuts becoming more and more real every year. They can provide (added) support I can't," in day-to-day operations, increasing parent and PTA participation, and partnering with organizations that can provide funding.
Physically and in terms of drawing students mostly from its neighborhood zone, Govans Elementary wouldn't change much, said Larry Schugam, executive vice president and chief development officer for the nonprofit Baltimore Curriculum Project, founded in 1996, which also operates the charter schools City Springs Elementary/Middle near Little Italy, Hampstead Hill Academy in the Patterson Park area and Wolfe Street Academy in Upper Fells Point.
The curriculum would change to direct instruction, a research-based language and arts curriculum that Baltimore Curriculum Project uses, Schugam said.
He said Baltimore Curriculum Project can provide customized professional development for teachers, academic coaches to mentor them, and a network of administrative support for principals, including a liaison with the public school system.
As Taylor gave the Messenger a tour of the school Friday, Schugam and Baltimore Curriculum Project founder and board member Muriel Berkeley stood in the cafeteria and multipurpose room, telling parents about their plans to run Govans Elementary as a charter school.
Taylor, meanwhile, talked about plans to rebuild or renovate the crowded, aging school as part of a $1.1 billion, state-funded plan approved last year to rebuild 14 city schools and revamp 30 others in the next 20 years. No decision has been made whether to rebuild or renovate Govans Elementary, and whatever is done is still four years away, Taylor said.
"If you asked us what would be at the top of our wish list, it would be more space," Taylor said.
Taylor also talked about everything from class sizes that are too big — 30 in kindergarten — and about her loyal faculty members, many of whom came on board with her.
"The overwhelming majority of my staff are still here," she said. "They come and they stay."
"I feel like I've kind of grown up here, kind of like it's my second family," said Sabrina Dugan, 34, a second grade teacher who has worked at Govans for 12 years and commutes from Gettysburg, Pa.
Pre-kindergarten teacher Alexandra Welsh, of Mount Washington, has worked at Govans Elementary for six years and feels a special bond with the school, where her father and grandmother once were students.
"Mrs. Taylor's great, and the parents and students," Welsh said. "It's a good neighborhood."
Welsh's students were hard at work drawing all manner of vehicles, from airplanes to trucks to buses. But 5-year-old Dulaney Cook had a different spin on the assignment. She drew a girl with pigtails on roller skates.
"Because I don't know how to draw a bus," Dulaney said.