Students walking the hallways can't ignore the school's past. Dozens of poster-size photographs of prominent community leaders are mounted on panels inscribed with their accomplishments. On one wall is Dunbar Brooks, an African-American who grew up in the area and went on to be president of the Baltimore County and state school boards.

Squyres said that, in researching the design, she could not find another school in the country that has incorporated a community's history into a new school building in this way. As students read the stories of what their predecessors achieved, she believes they may be inspired to achieve as well.

Erickson, the PTA president, said she expects the new building to make a difference even after several years of academic improvement.

"This is so bright and open. It kind of commands respect," she said. "It seems that more is expected of them now that they have something new and nice."

She said she hopes the new school will stand as a symbol for a comeback in her community. Already there are signs of revival, she said, along the shopping areas in Dundalk. Community events are bringing out more neighbors. Like the school, the traditionally black neighborhoods of Turners Station and Dundalk have become slightly more integrated.

When Shouldice took over as principal five years ago, the school was labeled failing after years of poor performance. Shouldice got rid of 72 percent of the faculty over two years, initiated programs to improve attendance and ramped up academic rigor — all in a tired, old building. It's hard to turn around schools, and even as much as it has been tried in the past decade, the success rate is low.

But this turnaround has academic measures from Advanced Placement to High School Assessments to support it. The school logged those achievements even as it saw an increasing number of poor students and those designated for special education.

Dundalk is rising above its old reputation, according to ninth-grader Erika Davis, who started high school just a few weeks ago.

"I expected the school to be kind of ghetto," she said, "but it is nice."

liz.bowie@baltsun.com