Baltimore's school synergies

When the Archdiocese of Baltimore recently agreed to lease the building that housed the Shrine of the Sacred Heart School to the Baltimore City Public Schools, it opened the door for a long-awaited K-8 school in Mount Washington. But it is also worth celebrating as an exciting example of a larger movement in greater Baltimore.

Three groups of schools — public, parochial and independent — are striving for excellence on their own, but they are also reaching out in new ways to help the others move forward. With ongoing collaboration, these groups of schools can generate new synergies and build a stronger educational system for the city and the region.


In agreeing to the lease in Mount Washington, Archbishop Edwin O'Brien and the archdiocese passed up more lucrative opportunities in the name of stronger Baltimore public schools. In doing so, they continued a tradition of commitment to non-Catholic youth in the region.

The much-heralded Partners in Excellence program has served thousands of Baltimore young people, bringing them opportunity and strengthening Baltimore neighborhoods. Our Catholic schools are now implementing an ambitious strategic plan to heighten accountability and school performance. They have created an archdiocesan school board and have undertaken efforts to make tuition more affordable, setting the stage for a new educational era that will benefit all Baltimoreans, Catholic and not.


The Baltimore public schools continue to set a standard for bold and thoughtful reform. Maryland's successful bid for $250 million in Race to the Top funding depended on true collaboration among the Maryland State Department of Education, the Baltimore school system and the teachers union, and it will provide enormous benefits to the community. A proposed new contract with the teachers union promises to be a model for the nation, rewarding excellence and creating a compensation system that will finally make teaching financially competitive with other professions.

While the area's independent schools do not act as a system, we are fortunate that 10 leading private schools routinely find ways to collaborate with our public schools. For example, more than 500 students from 10 Baltimore City middle schools in some of our most challenged neighborhoods spend their summers at elite private schools, preparing to succeed in our strongest public high schools. The Middle Grades Partnership is a true collaboration that provides opportunity for public school students while creating new links between private and public schools.

Several private schools are also working with the Baltimore public school system to start contract or charter schools, as independent operators, or to develop new partnerships with existing schools. Baltimore's already-strong independent schools can attract more and better teachers through these alliances, while contributing to the overall progress of the public system. Public school leaders, in partnership with the Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust and the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, are working in partnership to create a school choice directory that will allow families and students in Baltimore to have access to broad educational opportunities.

The quality of schools directly affects the strength of the surrounding community. Without a good local school, many parents leave the Baltimore school system entirely. Last year, more than one in five graduating fifth-graders at Mount Washington went to a private school or their families moved out of Baltimore City.

With the addition of the middle grades, the Mount Washington school will further strengthen a popular Baltimore neighborhood, giving families confidence that their children will make a successful transition from a superior K-8 school to one of Baltimore's excellent high schools. It will generate positive ripple effects throughout the neighborhood and the city and will relieve the Baltimore school system of the need for a substantial capital investment to build a new school.

In another example, in Lauraville, a traditional public school, a charter school and a parochial school are finding new ways to partner, supported by the Goldseker Foundation, with a focus on building a stronger neighborhood for all students.

Baltimore is fortunate to have three groups of schools with bold plans for success and a willingness to cooperate. We urgently need successful schools of all kinds to educate all of our children and attract the middle-class residents that are critical to our economic future.

Much more needs to be done, and now is the time to challenge and support all of our schools. Baltimore schools — whether public, private or parochial — must graduate far more of our students, serve as magnets for neighborhoods to attract and retain residents, and prepare young people for the highly skilled jobs our region is creating.


Thomas E. Wilcox is the President of The Baltimore Community Foundation. His e-mail is