News upsetting for many tied to targeted sites


For some, there was disappointment. For others, surprise and anger. And among a few parents, students and educators whose schools are targeted for closure this fall, there was a bit of hopefulness yesterday.

While some were nostalgia-free, expressing indifference or even relief that their schools were shutting down, others were concerned about potentially long commutes, worried about mixing middle and high school students in one building, or disappointed that well-liked neighborhood schools would disappear.

"I'm not happy with the school closing down. The kids know the teachers and they know each other, and now they're breaking them up," said Donald Moody, whose 6-year-old grandson recently relocated to Elmer A. Henderson Elementary from a nearby school because of the neighborhood's declining student population. "I don't understand it."

Under the plan presented to Baltimore's school board this week, Elmer A. Henderson pupils would be divided among Dr. Rayner Browne, Harford Heights or Thomas G. Hayes elementary schools. In all, the proposal calls for the closure of five school buildings and the relocation of more than 5,300 students this fall to save money and meet state demands. The school board is expected to vote on the plan at the end of March.

At Highlandtown Middle yesterday, a news conference about the school closures became heated after an emotional outburst by Capricia Martin, who has a son and a daughter at the school. Even though she volunteers at Highlandtown three times a week, Martin said she wasn't aware of the public meetings where community members gave input about the closure plan.

"The money they're going to [use] to build another school, why can't they put it into this school?" she asked through tears. She said her son, an eighth-grader, has come "a long way" at Highlandtown after "he started from zero."

She asked school system officials, "How do you know that they're going to get the same education at another school?"

But among teachers and pupils at Highlandtown, responses to the news were mixed.

"I think it's fine," said Jesus Perez, a sixth-grader. "This school is in bad condition." Pointing to the ceiling in his classroom, he said, "See paint coming down?" Some rooms don't have heat, he said.

For Debra Hamrick, a language arts teacher who has been at Highlandtown for 28 years, the building's big problem is rodents. "I have food in the cabinet," she said. "They nibble through it just like a hacksaw." While she's happy to leave Highlandtown's physical plant behind, she said she'd prefer to see the school rebuilt.

At the Southwestern High School complex, which houses 1,459 students in four schools, students and teachers also had a range of reactions. According to the proposal, students would be sent to one of three middle school buildings or to the building that now houses Harbor City West High School.

Larry Davis, an 11th-grader at the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, walks to school but moving to the Calverton Middle School building could mean a two-hour commute, he said.

"I think it's going to make them lose a lot of students," he said. "It will break up the unity of the school, putting us in a new environment.

"It's a connection to a neighborhood. This is our school, for real," Davis said. "We're going to lose our history with this school."

A number of high school students recoiled at the idea of being shuffled in with middle-schoolers. "That's not going to be right," said Ivory Miller, a 10th-grader. "The high school kids will pick on them."

But others were indifferent or glad about the proposed closure.

"I think it's a good thing. There's too many crazy people in here. It's crazy. Too much street stuff," said Keith Johnson, a 12th-grader. "The staff works as hard as they can, but I have no problem with them shutting the school."

Though the closings aren't finalized, many of those affected sounded a note of resignation.

"I kind of feel helpless," said Laticia Hill, a disappointed parent of an Elmer A. Henderson pupil. "There's nothing I can really do."

Sun reporter Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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