In a heated debate that at times turned into a candid discussion on race in Baltimore, Canton residents wrestled last night with a proposal to open a new middle/high school in their neighborhood.
Some, angered that students at Canton Middle School - which was scheduled to close - have attacked neighbors and destroyed property, opposed any school on the site. Others argued that bringing in a new charter school with a focus on community involvement could lift the area up.
"We do get tired of the garbage" and other problems associated with the school, said Julie Kardas, a 49-year-old Highland Avenue resident who was one of the hundreds who turned out for the two-hour meeting. "But I'm open to a school. I think a great school in this neighborhood would be fantastic."
The school system made plans under previous administrations to close several buildings, but city schools chief Andres Alonso has recommended using some of them to create combined middle and high schools as part of a reform strategy. In Canton, the Friendship Public Charter School company plans to open the Friendship Academy of Science and Technology.
Officials from the school district and Friendship answered questions about security, discipline and curriculum. Friendship, which runs five schools in Washington and was recently recognized by the College Board for its students' success on Advanced Placement tests, emphasized that their school would be different than those that have been in Canton before.
Some residents said that they have heard promises before and noted that many of the students who attend now would still be enrolled at the school.
The crowd, which gathered at the United Evangelical Church on Dillon Street, was at times passionate. One speaker suggested that opposition to the schools was based on racism - black students coming into a largely gentrified neighborhood.
"It's not about race," someone yelled out. "Yes, it is," another person shouted. "It's about crime," someone else responded.