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Edwards calls for 7 city schools to close

Tisha EdwardsRenovation

Baltimore schools interim CEO Tisha Edwards announced a sweeping plan Tuesday that would close seven schools in June, including struggling programs that originally were slated to stay open and undergo renovations.

The recommendations, which include keeping several charter schools open, would affect 2,800 students in 20 programs. They follow performance reviews of traditional schools and those run by external operators.

Two schools that were originally slated to be renovated under the system's 10-year facilities plan have been recommended for closure in 2017. Those students would be sent to neighboring programs in renovated buildings.

The schools recommended for closure at the end of this school year for poor academic performance are Baltimore Talent Development High School, Baltimore Community High School, Bluford Drew Jemison East and Bluford Drew Jemison West STEM academies, Baltimore Civitas Middle/High School, Baltimore Antioch Diploma Plus High School, and Baltimore Liberation Diploma Plus High School.

Most of the schools targeted for closure are nontraditional schools run by outside operators, and all but Bluford Drew Jemison East were supposed to move to new buildings or have their buildings renovated or replaced under the facilities plan.

Edwards said the plan reflects the district's attempt to close academically struggling programs and also help the system stretch the $1 billion it has to renovate buildings and accommodate as many students as possible.

"Now that we have $1 billion that will fund a smaller subset of schools, we're trying to get more kids in better buildings sooner," Edwards said. "From here on out, we will continue to review our portfolio for those opportunities."

The proposal, which requires school board approval to move forward, includes several amendments to the district's 10-year plan to overhaul its infrastructure. The original plan, presented by former CEO Andrés Alonso about a year ago, called for closing 26 buildings and closing or merging 29 programs. The overall goal is to shut down dilapidated and underused buildings and rebuild or renovate more than 130 others.

This year, the General Assembly approved a plan that would fund $1.1 billion in renovations, but the district needs $2.4 billion to fix its facilities.

This year's recommendations include two new closures that were not part of the original facilities plan, but Edwards said were geared toward getting "more students in 21st-century buildings sooner."

Grove Park Elementary/Middle School and Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts would both close in 2017.

Grove Park would have been renovated in the fifth year of the 10-year plan, but instead its 319 students would be dispersed to other schools in the area, such as Arlington Elementary, which will be renovated in 2015, the first year of the plan's implementation.

Augusta Fells, a low-performing school, was slated be renovated or replaced in 2015, but its students would be funneled to the highly sought-after Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy. Vivien T. Thomas' planned renovation would be moved up from the eighth year to the first year of the plan.

The plan would also completely vacate the former Walbrook High School campus, which now holds Bluford Drew Jemison West and Civitas Middle/High School and was due to be renovated.

With the recommended closure of the two Diploma Plus schools, alternative high schools for students that were not recommended for renewal, Edwards proposes reversing the decision to close the Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School.

Under the 10-year plan, Excel Academy was scheduled to close in 2015, but Edwards said that the school would absorb the students from the Diploma Plus schools on the west side of the city.

Staff from Excel Academy attended the meeting Tuesday and thanked officials for keeping the school open.

The district also recommended that several charter schools and other schools run by external operators receive three- and five-year extensions of their contracts.

Those up for five-year renewals include The Green School of Baltimore, KIPP Harmony and Rosemont Elementary/Middle School.

City Neighbor Hamilton, Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology, Friendship Academy of Science and Technology, the NACA II Freedom and Democracy School, New Era Academy and the Reach! Partnership School received recommendations for three-year renewals. Reach!, which now runs from sixth through twelfth grade, would serve only high-school students.

The Friendship Academy of Science and Technology would move out of its building in Canton and a new elementary/middle school would be built there in three years, Edwards said.

The new building would also alleviate overcrowding in Southeast Baltimore schools.

She said that residents were upset by some of the activity the middle/high school drew to the neighborhood, and that the district and the operators "are in agreement that we should be looking for alternative locations for that school."

There are also plans to create two school programs in Cherry Hill after the closure of the community's only high school last year. One school would serve pre-kindergarten through second grade and another would serve grades three through eight.

Members of the Cherry Hill community praised the plan Tuesday night and said they look forward to seeing the plan come to fruition.

The city school board will vote on the recommendations after a series of public hearings next month.

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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