Evelyn T. Beasley, who turned around a failing Roland Park Elementary-Middle School and then served as its principal and was its outspoken advocate for nearly two decades, died March 24 from cancer at Woodholme Gardens, a Pikesville assisted-living facility.
The longtime resident of Northwest Baltimore’s Arlington neighborhood, was 89.
“My son and daughter went there and she had a big impact on my family and the entire city of Baltimore,” said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is now president of the University of Baltimore.
“Miss Beasley was an inspiration and a ball of energy that excited her staff. She really was an amazing person,” he said. “She showed that public education could produce high-quality students. She was positive and everyone who believed in the public system wanted their kids to go to Roland Park Public School because of her.”
Mr. Schmoke added: “She was pure effervescence.”
The former Evelyn Taylor, who was born and raised in West Baltimore, was the daughter of Edwin Taylor, a laborer, and his wife, Lillian Horsley Taylor, a homemaker.
Mrs. Beasley was a 1947 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School, and while attending secretarial school, she was awarded an academic scholarship to continue her education at what was then Coppin State Teachers College, from which graduated in 1954.
She received an advanced professional certificate from what is now Towson University and a master’s degree in 1991 in administrative science from the Johns Hopkins University. She also attended professional conferences and workshops throughout the nation.
Mrs. Beasley began teaching in city public schools in 1954, and shortly thereafter, was asked “to assist with the professional development of her peers by serving as a demonstration teacher and a supervisory teacher,” a granddaughter, Nicole Swann of Randallstown, wrote in a biographical profile of her grandmother.
In 1965, Mrs. Beasley was promoted to elementary specialist at the old city school headquarters on 25th Street, where she worked for four years, until being named assistant principal at Hazlewood Elementary School in Northeast Baltimore.
Within three months, she was promoted to Hazlewood’s principal and was charged with turning around the failing school.
Her experiences in turning around Hazlewood served her well when in 1976 she was sent to Roland park Elementary-Middle School as principal.
At the time, this primarily black school in a primarily white neighborhood, surrounded by such private schools as Gilman, Roland Park and Bryn Mawr, was “plummeting in achievement, discipline and self-respect,” according to a Baltimore Sun editorial at the time of her retirement in 1993.
Mrs. Beasley and parents wasted no time in persuading real estate brokers to praise the school when selling area properties. Then they lobbied school officials for an advanced academic course for seventh- and eighth-grade students.
And when the new course became available in 1978, there was high demand for few places.
The new program was called an “Advanced Academic Program” that would prepare students for the academic rigors and challenges of City College, Polytechnic Institute and Western High School.
City schools at the time had set aside 175 places, and more than 400 qualified students applied for them.
“I had people tell me we would never fill it up, but I knew the kids were out there,” Mrs. Beasley told The Evening Sun in 1978. “I’m ecstatic at the response.”
Soon, Mrs. Beasley’s school became a major feeder to city magnet high schools, and recruiters from the nation’s prep schools came calling to her school offering scholarships.
“The word was out that this was where to find black youth capable of the most academically challenging ninth-grade work anywhere,” noted The Sun editorial.
Mrs. Beasley was able to achieve her goals without an extra dollar from the budget, and in an old building that had seen better days.
“Yet the school was a model of what successive superintendents said they wanted. Its principal was a strong leader, it practiced school-based management, it enjoyed strong community support and it was a model of interracial cooperation,” according to the editorial.
In 1984, it was proposed that the school disperse for two years while it was renovated and an addition constructed. Among its students were parents who were architects and builders, and they successfully came up with a plan that kept it open while the work went forward until the addition was completed by 1986.
“Mrs. Beasley was incredibly astute and skilled at crossing racial barriers and building bridges throughout our community,” Gary Thrift, former assistant superintendent of city public schools who is now dean of Notre Dame of Maryland University’s School of Education, wrote in an email.
“She always knew how to engage people from the community to serve on the PTA, to work on committees, and even teach at Roland Park; she always seemed to have a ready-made back-up plan whenever we experienced a teacher vacancy,” wrote Mr.Thrift, who had been interviewed by Mrs. Beasley in 1979 for the position of assistant principal at the school.
“Having the only public school in a community of many private schools, she reached and collaborated with many of them to develop partnerships that could benefit students no matter what school they attended,” he wrote.
Mr. Thrift admired her ability to “schmooze” politicians as “well as stand up to them, including our mayors and governors, and she was somehow always able to secure the resources she needed for her students,” he wrote.
Mrs. Beasley “fiercely guarded her school,” so much so that she discouraged drop-in visitors from school headquarters and required them to make appointments before visiting teachers, students and staff, and “zealously guarded the instructional program.”
She had set high academic standards for her students but realized they sometimes made bad decisions and would offer them a second chance. “But,” Mr. Thrift wrote, “she made it very clear there would never be a third chance.”
So successful was Mrs. Beasley that by 1986 there was a front-page article about her and Roland Park Elementary-Middle School in The Wall Street Journal, and the boast that Andover, the nation’s oldest boarding school, had more students from her school than any other in the nation.
In 1992, when then-Superintendent Walter G. Amprey proposed to transfer Mrs. Beasley, there was an ensuing uproar from the community and parents, and then-Mayor Schmoke weighed in and stated he would review all possible transfers, reported The Sun.
When Robert C. Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, who had a daughter at the school, was asked if he was happy with Mrs. Beasley, he told The Sun, “Happy would be an understatement. She is a wonderful principal.”
The Morning Sun
Even though she ended her career at her school in 1993, she worked for the state Department of Education mentoring new principals. She served on the boards of Roland Park Country School, Lida lee Tall Learning Resources Center, Baltimore Choral Arts Society, Associated Black Charities and People with Disabilities.
She was a member of the NAACP, Greater Board of Realtors, League of Women Voters, Black and Jews United, and the West Arlington Improvement Association.
She had a second career after earning her real estate license in 1986 selling property.
Mrs. Beasley was a world traveler and an accomplished seamstress, and she enjoyed listening to music, especially Motown, and dancing.
She was an active communicant of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, where she was a member of the Altar Guild.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at her church, 5603 N. Charles Street.
In addition to her granddaughter, she is survived by four other grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and five great-great grandchildren. She had two sons, Reginald Beasley, who died in 1996, and Peter Beasley, who died in 2006. Her marriage to Pete Beasley ended in divorce.