For decades, tensions have brewed between residents of the city's Middle East community and neighboring Johns Hopkins institutions, as generations watched its prosperous past fade to blight while Hopkins continued to build its august future.
But on the site of a small classroom trailer this year, their fates will converge.
Johns Hopkins' and Morgan State's schools of education will assume operation of the East Baltimore Community School in a unique partnership of two universities. It's the first time the universities, considered national experts in the best practices for educators, have taken on such an endeavor.
The planned K-8 school was a selling point for the redevelopment of 88 acres north of Johns Hopkins Hospital's sprawling campus, which has relocated 750 families from the Middle East neighborhood and continues to draw ire and skepticism from some in the community.
The universities are taking over the charter school that was begun by the developers and has posted subpar test scores. University officials hope to transform it into one of the highest-performing schools in the city before it moves from the trailer into a new $30 million facility in 2013.
"For generations, we've trusted Hopkins with our health care, with our lives, and this is what we've wanted them to do in the larger community — take care of the neighbors outside their door," said Nia Redmond, a lifelong resident of the Middle East neighborhood and a community representative of the group that has undertaken the area's redevelopment. "That didn't happen for a long time."
Redmond described how past generations were the cooks, janitors and housekeepers for Johns Hopkins. "Then our kids had to go out on the corner and sell drugs because their parents can't make a living." Redmond said the community has sought a new school for nearly two decades.
University officials say the East Baltimore Community School will become a showcase for the best practices in closing the achievement gap for children in urban communities, and some community members see it as a symbol of progress in repairing longstanding mistrust.
"It's the right thing to do," said Patricia L. Welch, dean of Morgan's School of Education. "The community deserves to have a world-class school for the children."
Officials at Hopkins, which has long pointed to its philanthropic efforts in the city, say the school also will fulfill a century-old ambition of Johns Hopkins himself.
In 1873, the Quaker millionaire directed the trustees of his estate to build his legacy on 13 acres in East Baltimore, with the construction of world-class health and education institutions to serve the community, particularly its youth, according to archival records.
In instructions, the abolitionist and humanitarian ordered that the Johns Hopkins Hospital Colored Orphan Asylum be built at the same time as a world-class hospital, for the "reception, maintenance and education of orphan, colored children," and designated thousands of dollars annually in his will to sustain it. It began operating two years after his death in 1875 and closed in 1924.
"Hopkins the man, not the institution, saw this need, but as the institution grew, the man got lost," said Redmond, who will also serve on the school's board. "Johns Hopkins would be so proud of this school. Hopkins is finally coming back to do what this man started."
Hopkins University will be the primary day-to-day operator of the school. Officials say it will be an anchor in the community and eventually occupy a 90,000-square-foot facility. Hopkins will tap virtually all of the university's social and educational programs, including the Peabody Institute and School of Medicine, and has received $1.5 million in private funds for resources such as curriculum design and professional development for teachers.
"We're making a bold statement because this community is deserving of a high-quality school," said David Andrews, who took his post as dean of Hopkins' School of Education in 2010 and will oversee the school's restructuring and day-to-day operations.
"It's all about having a high impact for kids. We can prove that it's not only possible, but it's doable — to turn around a neighborhood by having an anchor education institution."
Morgan, which specializes in science, technology, engineering and math curriculua, will bring its manpower and knowledge about educating children from urban communities. Welch is a member of the school's board, and the university's administration will be instrumental in advising about operations at the school.
"The partnership will be reflected in the lives of the children," said Welch, also a former Baltimore City school board member. "They won't see a one kind of world.
The East Baltimore Community School has been operating as a charter since 2009 under the auspices of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit group created in 2002 to oversee the $1.8 billion redevelopment of the area surrounding Hopkins. Once a working- and middle-class black neighborhood, the area has been scarred by poverty and crime.
EBDI also plans to build 1,500 new homes and 1.7 million square feet of laboratory, office and retail space, and a slew of civic amenities.
Discussions about the EDBI project continue to be contentious, with residents expressing concern about whether they will be able to afford to live in the new community or benefit from its amenities.
But community members do hope the school will be a magnet for families who have left the neighborhood. Project planners also hope to attract new families, and they point to market research that indicates that the school would be a draw.
The school "is among the core bedrock opportunities of the project," said Christopher Shea, CEO of EBDI. He said that delivering on the school was imperative to getting the community on board with the new redevelopment project.
"We will be as successful as that school is," Shea said. "And we have the best opportunity with these two [universities]."
The city school board approved the transfer of the school from EDBI to Hopkins this month.
But the proposal for Hopkins to run the school was met with caution by some community members.
"We had a lot of people in the neighborhood who wanted Hopkins to sit in the back seat on this," said Redmond. "But we knew if Hopkins came in, they would bring the best of the best."
In an letter to The Baltimore Sun in December, community members expressed concern about what they considered to be "myths" about the promise of EBDI.
The community school was identified as Myth No. 3. "We do not doubt that the East Baltimore Community School provides high-quality education. But, of its 200 students, it is our understanding that only a handful currently live in East Baltimore or are from the original community," residents Donald Gresham and Leon Purnell wrote.
Shea said that's a misconception. Though it mirrors a charter model, the school is technically a "contract school," which allows it to designate at least 70 percent of its seats to students from East Baltimore, including those who have relocated because of the redevelopment. Remaining seats will be filled by students in schools surrounding the neighborhood and in a citywide lottery.
Other residents praise what they see as the universities' commitment to the East Baltimore Community School.
Betty Carlos, 65, a lifelong Middle East resident whose daughter, Gift, is a student at the school, said that Hopkins is bringing hope to the community for the first time in a long while.
In June, Carlos' 7-year-old was attacked by a pit bull, and her face was disfigured. World-class Hopkins surgeons reconstructed Gift's face after Andrews, the dean of Hopkins' School of Education, who didn't know the family, made a phone call.
He promised Carlos that Gift would start the second grade this year healed and in good spirits.
"Everything he told me has come to pass, and it's just overwhelming that such a big change has come," said Carlos, who will serve on the school's board this year. "Of all things, it was important that Gift get the best education, and Hopkins is the best.
"A lot of people are scared of the change," she said. "But I tell all of the parents to get on board because this is where it's happening. … I see a bright future for our children."
The East Baltimore Community School will open Monday with kindergarten through third grade, and sixth and seventh grades. It will gradually grow to serve kindergarten through eighth grade.
Hopkins will implement a project-based learning curriculum focused on literacy and math. The school's plans also includes an extended learning day, individualized academic plans and programs that focus on physical and mental health.
"We have the capacity to look at every child, the whole child, every day," said Andrews, who will move into a rehabbed home a few blocks from the school.
Students at both university schools of education also will do internships, mentorships and student teaching there.
Andrews said it was "inadequate" for the School of Education to produce teachers in an urban environment and not prepare them to work in one. More importantly, he said, the nationally renowned school cannot generate expert research that it hasn't put into practice.
The East Baltimore Community School will emerge as "a small school with a big footprint," Andrews said.
"What we learn here in Baltimore, we'll be disseminating to a much broader audience," he said.