Fourteen years ago, David Simon became the first principal of the newly created Baltimore School for the Arts. Over the years Mr. Simon has turned what began as a hopeful experiment into one of the most successful performing arts education programs in the nation, a model for other city schools and one of the cultural jewels of this city.
Now, at age 69, Mr. Simon is shepherding his last batch of budding artists through their crucial formative years. At the end of this school year he is scheduled to retire, leaving the work he began in the hands of his successors.
It's too early to say goodbye, but not to express this city's appreciation and thanks for the unflagging dedication and painstaking attention to producing excellence that have characterized Mr. Simon's tenure as director of the BSA.
Every school reflects to a greater or lesser extent the abilities, talents and personality of the man or woman at the helm. What makes the School for the Arts unique is the extent to which its students and faculty have adopted an ethic of discipline, hard work and a striving for excellence that is rare in any institution.
No one who has visited the school, or seen its students perform or tracked the careers of its graduates can doubt that the entire BSA community bears the unmistakable stamp of Mr. Simon. He is his own tradition, and his legacy will be the 1,000 or so students who have passed through his school and been transformed by the experience.
Mr. Simon's philosophy has always been that training in the arts is essential to young people's development. It provides focus to their lives and motivation at a time in which they are seeking answers to basic questions about themselves and the world. In Mr. Simon's view, the ultimate goal of arts education is always to produce focused, disciplined young people who become successful adults.
That effort has paid off handsomely during the course of Mr. Simon's tenure at BSA. More than 90 percent of the students go on to college or directly into professional performing careers. The drop-out rate is virtually zero. Though the school day at BSA is longer than at any other city school, Mr. Simon still has to shoo students out the door when it is over. What other school can boast that?
Mr. Simon has shown that artistic excellence and commitment to the highest academic standards can coexist in a city public school. That itself is an achievement worth noting. Baltimore is fortunate indeed to have such an educator and leader point the way toward an ideal every city school should want to emulate.