Community leaders and parents protest school closure

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
“To keep us you have to give us a school that meets our expectations.”

Saying their small school is an academic treasure in the heart of the community, a group of about a dozen parents and community leaders gathered outside Abbottston Elementary School on Monday to protest its planned closure.

Janice Foreman, the grandparent of a third-grade boy, said the school offers structure and discipline for children, as well as offerings in the arts.

"To take this away and ship him somewhere else would be a disgrace," she said.

If Abbottston is closed, the school system would transfer students to Waverly Elementary/Middle School after this school year.

"This is the closest school for our children," said Sonja Merchant-Jones, chair of the Better Waverly Community Association. "People talk about a home school. This is a home school," she said, pointing to the building behind her.

City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who is helping to lead the effort to save Abbottston, said that less than a decade ago, millions of state, local and federal dollars were poured into the renovation of the school, a handsome stone building on Gorsuch Avenue in the shadow of City College.

While the school is at 72 percent capacity, she said enrollment is growing and she predicted it will be at capacity in the years ahead. State figures show the school's enrollment has been on the decline since 2007 and last year was at 150. But on Sept. 30, the enrollment had jumped to 186, according to new city figures.

Abbottston shares the building with the Stadium School, a middle school that will remain open.

Members of the community around Waverly Elementary/Middle School are equally angered by the plans because they believe the students transferring from Abbottston will fill the space designated for enrichment programs they were promised when the $27 million, 133,000-square-foot building was planned. The school has promised Spanish instruction, gifted-and-talented classes and other programs.

"Adding all these kids from Abbottston would crowd out the special programming. These are the things that make Waverly such a special school," said Kristen Faroe, who lives across the street from the Waverly school.

She said she and her husband are among the many young families who chose their neighborhood for the school, hoping they could avoid a move to a surrounding county.

"We really value the city. To keep us, you have to give us a school that meets our expectations," she said.

Karen Stokes, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., said Waverly's enrollment has been growing quickly since the opening of the new building last January and construction is not yet complete. The city schools confirmed that the enrollment is now at 848, up 200 since last year.

"Greater Homewood is not opposed to school closings, but it has to be done in a rational way. In this case, we don't think it works," she said.

The public can comment on the closings before the school board from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Dec. 9. Written comments can be sent to portfoliorecommendations@bcps.k12.md.us by 5 p.m. Dec. 12 or by mail to the school board at 200 E. North Ave., Room 406, Baltimore 21202.

The school board is expected to vote on the proposed closures Dec. 17.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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