Investing in city schools brings returns for and from students

In October, the Fund for Educational Excellence published the results of its comprehensive listening campaign to highlight the community's priorities for Baltimore's schools. Three points stand out:

•Baltimoreans want schools to assess the quality of K-12 education by how well our students are prepared for post-secondary learning and careers;


•Baltimoreans want students to have better academic options during the school day along with more after-school programming;

•And people in Baltimore want new ways to become more active supporters of schools.


I am the principal of City College, Baltimore's liberal arts magnet, where we offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program that guides students to think deeply within and across content areas. Ninety-nine percent of our graduating seniors — all of whom participate in the IB program as of 2013 — are accepted into college, and 87 percent of them choose to enroll in four-year colleges, according to the most recent data. That compares to a citywide high school graduate enrollment rate of 56 percent and a statewide enrollment rate of 72 percent. Additionally, 50 percent of our graduating class in 2014 became the first in their families to attend college.

And many of our graduates choose to return to Baltimore after earning their degrees to work in business, government, non-profits, the arts and more. As a result, our school is uniquely positioned to be a model of success for the Baltimore City school system.

But the fund's report reminded me that we can do better. Increased participation rates on IB assessments and growing scholarship awards indicate that City is preparing students for college. But how can we better prepare them with the type of research and technologies needed for success when they arrive?

The answer to this question came after visiting schools in Virginia and Massachusetts. The library spaces were impressive with stacks of books, access to non-print media, computers, both collaborative and quiet work spaces, trained adults to help students use the space, and wiring and lighting to accommodate everyone. They were, in short, model environments to encourage academic excellence.

While City College is an exemplary high school, its library has not been upgraded in nearly 40 years and is not able to meet the needs of today's students and today's technology. Our students at City face the same challenges many students face across Baltimore. Many, for example, lack access at home to the Internet and online databases that are important for research and learning.

That's why we are partnering with the city school system, our alumni, parents, students, faculty and friends on a $2 million campaign to build a new library at the school ( We have named this campaign Torch Burning Bright, a phrase that comes from our school song: "Forever may her banner wave, her torch burn ever bright."

It is this brightly burning torch that illuminates the path our students need to take to achieve success, to go to college, to make a difference in our community. I like to think that this torch burns brightly within our classrooms, our hallways and in our tower. This torch represents many things, most notably wisdom, knowledge, enlightenment and service.

But for this torch to burn brightly for generations to come, we need facilities that enable us to learn, do research and compete in the digital age. We need a new academic center and library to help our school's community learn, grow and achieve success in a new age.


The new library will help us better prepare our students for college by giving them access to online databases, scholarly articles and instruction in research. The new library will give our students more options for how to spend their time by operating on extended hours before, during and after school and providing a safe refuge and hub for learning inside our building. And the new library will invite more members of our community to be partners with our school by helping us complete this ambitious project.

At City College, we are taking our already outstanding academic program to the next level by building a 21st century library and academic center through an ambitious public-private partnership. It's an effort that will benefit our students and our city — and one that's worth replication.

Cindy Harcum is the principal of Baltimore City College, a 1988 graduate of City and the parent of a City Collegian. Her email is