Baltimore school board considering closing more city schools

The Baltimore school system has recommended closing four more city schools, in addition to two others previously announced, because of declining enrollment and poor academic performance.

The new schools targeted for closure at the end of the academic year are Coldstream Park Elementary/Middle School and Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology in Northeast Baltimore, Knowledge and Success Academy in Southwest Baltimore and William Pinderhughes Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore.

The Baltimore school board will hold a special session Tuesday to review and discuss the recommendations and hear from community members, some of whom already are mobilizing against the closures.

“The community wasn’t involved in the front end of this recommendation,” said Alexandria Warrick Adams, director of Elev8 Baltimore, an education advocacy group and community partner of William Pinderhughes.

The recommendation follows an annual review of district schools by a committee assembled by the Office of New Initiatives, which manages the district’s schools.

The school board previously announced the suggested closures next summer of Rognel Heights Elementary/Middle School and Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson Elementary/Middle School.

The school board will vote on these recommendations Dec. 19, following a series of public meetings to answer questions and gather feedback from parents, school administrators, teachers and others.

The board also is being asked to approve the reconfiguration of grade levels in several schools and to turn over some district-owned buildings to the city as part of an effort to reduce the district’s utility and maintenance costs. School board members also have been advised against renewing the contract of Independence School Local I, a public charter high school.

Elijah Etheridge, the executive director of Baltimore Teachers Network, which operates Independence, said revoking the school’s charter would be a devastating loss. The school currently serves about 150 students, the largest student body in its 14-year history.

The district found that Independence had low graduation rates and college readiness assessment scores — figures that Etheridge disputes. He said he plans to present evidence showing more positive outcomes at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We believe the recommendation was made out of a lack of knowledge of the true value of this school,” he said.

The recommended closures come in the midst of a $1 billion initiative to replace Baltimore’s aging school infrastructure and build up to 28 new buildings.

“The most important thing is that we are ensuring our students have access to rigorous, robust programs in safe and healthy environments that promote success,” Angela Alvarez, director of the district’s office of new initiatives, said of the closures during a board meeting earlier this month.

The district considers academic performance, building utilization and other factors during its yearly review of schools.

Community members are planning a protest outside district headquarters on North Avenue during Tuesday’s board meeting.

William Pinderhughes, located in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, has been a “mainstay of this community forever,” Warrick Adams said. It operates a food pantry and offers workshops for adults on personal finance and other topics aimed at improving the quality of life for neighborhood residents.

Citing declining enrollment and too few students in the area, school system officials would rezone William Pinderhughes’ students to Gilmor Elementary or Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary, which are 0.3 and 0.8 miles away, respectively.

“We’re trying to ensure there’s enough students so that we can provide what students actually need,” Alvarez said.

The district uses the “fair student funding” model, in which dollars follow the students to the schools they attend.

Middle school students from William Pinderhughes would have the opportunity to choose which school they want to attend through the district’s choice process.

Dozens of parents, students and business owners have signed letters opposing the closure.

The neighborhood’s students would have to walk further, putting “our most vulnerable citizens and our strongest assets — our children — at risk,” Warrick Adams said,

Roughly half of the families living in the community statistical area that encompasses Sandtown-Winchester live in poverty.

“This signals to the community that, ‘You don’t matter,’” she said. “When you close a school that is a hub of opportunity and access, what you’re saying to a neighborhood is that you can just go somewhere else to get what you need. That’s not true.”

The principals at each of the schools recommended for closure did not respond to requests for comment.

Knowledge and Success Academy has long performed below district averages on state assessments and enrollment has dropped by more than 100 students in the last five years, district officials said.

Similar issues persist at Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology in the Hamilton Hills neighborhood, district officials said.

“We have more middle grades and high school seats than we need in this part of the city,” Alvarez said.

More than 200 students have left the school in recent years.

Coldstream Park also has “struggled to produce strong outcomes from students,” Alvarez said.

Should the recommended closure be approved, elementary-aged students will be rezoned to Abbottson Elementary while middle school students will be able to attend Stadium School or select an alternative.

Alvarez said district officials seriously consider “the ins and outs of everything” when making these recommendations.

trichman@baltsun.com

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