It's not every day that a school holds a surprise party for the principal, but Leith Walk's Edna Greer was showered with balloons, hearts and "toot toots" by her 1,000 students in the North Baltimore elementary school all week long.

At an assembly yesterday morning, glowing second- and third-graders jumped up and down in the aisles after getting "Greer hugs" for performing songs, poems and tap dances. The "toot" salutes were exclamation points between the acts and went with this year's school theme: "Take the 'A' Train to Academic Success."

"This was been the best week I've ever had!" Greer, wearing a yellow railroad hat in the front row, told the children. "You are loved by me, and I am loved by you." Although there was no birthday, award or retirement, teachers and students chose this week to honor Greer.

In a city whose streets and houses often show signs of sorrow, the smiles inside the school -- not to mention the scores of science projects displayed in the gym -- offer a vision of youth who have a chance to live their dreams. The 10-year-old student council president, for example, won a scholarship to Bryn Mawr private school after writing an essay on a nature field trip that inspired her.

"I've always said, 'You're going to be what?' " the 50-year-old principal asked the girl, Anyah Brou, serious and resplendent in braids after the assembly.

"The President of the United States," Anyah answered.

Anyah, who has attended the high-ranking school since kindergarten, has clearly learned her lessons at Leith Walk well. "I understand the process of electricity," she said as she explained her experiment on conductivity. Her interest was sparked by visiting the Benjamin Franklin Museum in Philadelphia on a class field trip.

First and foremost among the lessons that Greer drills into her students is self-esteem -- or as she puts it, "the best me I can be." Christian Hundertmark, 10, said simply, "I used to call myself names [but] I'm a bright boy if I do say so myself."

Boys at Leith Walk are given special attention by five retired African-American professional men, employed as "jacks of all trades." More important, Greer said, they are there to be father figures and "positive role models. You can't be a man if you don't see a man."

Alvin Bagley, a retired Social Security insurance analyst, said he meets privately with mothers and boys to send a message: "Any previous baggage, leave it there. But there's no compromise. No fighting. Homework must be done."

On Fridays, when children are allowed to depart from school uniforms of white shirts and dark pants and skirts, Bagley said he and the other men dress in suits to show "you're not a nerd or a wimp if you wear a suit or tie."

Keeping his shoulders straight, Travis Reynolds, 10, said, "I was on the drill team with Mr. Bagley. He was telling us about military discipline."

But it's not all about saluting smartly, sweet talk and good manners at Leith Walk. Greer has school test scores to prove that good things, not only joie de vivre, are going on inside the walls.

Strong numbers

Leith Walk ranked 14th out of 114 city elementary schools last year on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests. Only a quarter of the students earned a "satisfactory" rating in the six areas tested, however, an indicator of how hard it is to bring all students up to state standards.

Greer, who came to Leith Walk from Mount Washington Elementary School in 1990, would be at the top of the class if there were a standardized test for extracurricular activities. Every year, second-graders go to Washington, third-graders go to Annapolis, fourth-graders go to Philadelphia and fifth-graders go to New York in May and June, courtesy of the PTO. "Because our school is predominantly African-American, we go to Harlem" along with the Statue of Liberty and the United Nations when they visit New York, Greer said.

Second-generation principal

The daughter of a retired Baltimore school principal, Greer recalled her girlhood summers helping her mother teach. Now her mother, 86-year-old Thelma Jackson, comes to see her daughter at work. "Students say she looks like Rosa Parks," the civil rights pioneer, Greer said.

Along with three assemblies and a fete last night, Greer received a letter from President Clinton this week. Clinton wrote that he was "pleased to extend my congratulations."

Greer believes the work she and her teachers do every day is unseen by the public eye. "They talk about Baltimore City schools," said Greer indignantly. "Do these kids look like they're deprived as far as education is concerned?"

Pub Date: 4/26/97

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad