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New principals named for schools at center of Freddie Gray unrest

Two schools that felt the brunt of unrest that gripped Baltimore following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray — Frederick Douglass High and Gilmor Elementary — will start the new academic year with new principals.

Kelvin Bridgers will leave his post as principal of the city's Historic Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School to take over at Frederick Douglass.

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Douglass, located adjacent to Mondawmin Mall, was thrust into the national spotlight when about 100 students walked out early April 27 — the day of the funeral for Gray, who died after suffering spinal cord injuries while in police custody. The walkout was blamed by some officials, many say unfairly, as helping start riots that swept West Baltimore that evening.

Bridgers was introduced at Tuesday's school board meeting as Douglass' new principal and said he was "honored and humbled" by the appointment.

A veteran of the city school district, Bridgers served as principal of Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy-East for five years, and was at Walbrook High School for 17 years. Both schools are now closed.

"I'm confident that the same traditions that have built [Douglass'] outstanding legacy are still present in the teachers, students, administrators and the community," Bridgers said. "It is my goal to do the work that it takes to move this historic institution forward."

Curtis Durham, currently principal of Cross Country Elementary/ Middle School, will take over Gilmor Elementary School, located across the street from Gilmor Homes, where Gray was arrested.

Mark Bongiovanni, who resigned from Gilmor in June, was a 17-year-veteran of the system and among a group of leaders cited by officials as "transformational principals." He resigned at Gilmor to go to Baltimore County, saying he had received little support from the city's central office in tackling issues at the school.

At Frederick Douglass, Iona Spikes took over the school two months before the events surrounding Gary's death and funeral. In the wake of the unrest, the school's alumni association urged city schools CEO Gregory Thornton to appoint a strong principal, and city school officials said they would conduct a national search.

Spikes said she had applied for the job.

Six principals were approved Tuesday and eight principal vacancies in the city remain. Officials said they will be filled by the start of school.

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