Supporters say school recommended for closure is important hub for West Baltimore neighborhood – Baltimore Sun

Within the tall brick constructing on Gold Road the place her daughter attends fifth grade, Kiquana Downer says she has discovered one thing like an prolonged household.

If she’s working low on meals stamps, the only mom can decide up canned meals and recent produce from the meals pantry at William Pinderhughes Elementary/Center School in West Baltimore. There’s a closet within the school library the place she will be able to discover a free winter coat for Heaven, her 10-year-outdated daughter. She has taken a monetary literacy course on the school, at which she realized the significance of constructing wealth — even when simply by saving $5 a month. The school additionally provides after-school and psychological well being applications, amongst different assets.

However the way forward for the school is now unsure. The Baltimore metropolis school board is scheduled to vote Dec. 19 on whether or not to shut seven metropolis faculties, Pinderhughes amongst them. Of the seven, solely Pinderhughes operates as a group school. The designation, held by roughly 50 metropolis faculties, means it provides intensive social companies to college students and their households.

“The school is all the things to us,” Downer, 35, stated, “I don’t know of some other locations that do the issues the school do.”

As violence in Baltimore surges, advocates have pushed for extra faculties to tackle the function.

Pinderhughes is positioned in Sandtown-Winchester, the lengthy-struggling neighborhood the place Freddie Grey was arrested in 2015. Grey’s harm in police custody and subsequent loss of life sparked days of unrest.

Downer has misplaced two brothers to gun violence. On days when her spirits are low — when she feels “like the underside of my shoe” — she goes to the school to play with the pre-kindergarten college students.

The Baltimore Schooling Analysis Consortium says it has recognized advantages to group faculties. The consortium reported final 12 months that college students who attend lengthy-working group faculties are much less more likely to be chronically absent, and oldsters usually tend to say that school employees cares for their kids.

Towson College professor Jessica Shiller focuses on city training. “A few of our best hope is in group faculties,” she stated. Closing them represents “the most important contradiction in policymaking.”

Advocates say the group school mannequin helps to raise neighborhoods academically, socially and culturally. They say that’s important in impoverished areas like Sandtown-Winchester.

“Think about getting disconnected from all of these companies,” stated José Muñoz, director of the nationwide Coalition for Group Colleges.

School district officers say Pinderhughes’ small inhabitants — roughly 250 college students — holds it again. In a district the place funding is tied to pupil enrollment, officers say small faculties lack the cash wanted to offer strong programming.

Below the plan being thought of by town school board, elementary school college students at Pinderhughes could be rezoned to both Gilmor or Eutaw-Marshburn elementary faculties, that are barely bigger than Pinderhughes however farther away. Eutaw-Marshburn is additionally a group school; Gilmor is not. Center School college students would choose a center school by way of the district’s school alternative course of.

District officers say there merely aren’t sufficient elementary-age college students within the space to fill all three buildings.

Metropolis faculties CEO Sonja Santelises has stated the district desires to ensure faculties are capable of supply important applications and extracurriculars. Gilmor, for instance, provides a Gifted and Superior Studying program. Pinderhughes doesn't.

“Growing enrollment at these faculties would strengthen their capability to offer extra academic programming,” officers wrote in a report on the closure suggestions.

At group boards on the proposed closures, a number of the loudest opposition has come from mother and father and college students at Pinderhughes. They say closing the school is simply one other instance of town delivering a blow to a neighborhood already in misery. The neighborhood has a median family revenue of $24,374. Unemployment is 20 p.c.

Group faculties coordinator Noreen Smith, who works with Pinderhughes by way of Elev8 Baltimore, stated the school provides alternatives that aren’t accessible elsewhere within the neighborhood. Elev8 Baltimore works to get college students prepared for excessive school.

Smith stated the district ought to have mentioned options with residents earlier than recommending the closure final month. “Something that’ll influence this group, we must be concerned within the determination-making,” she stated.

Santelises and school board members have visited the school in latest weeks. At a discussion board Tuesday, Pinderhughes supporters requested the board to place off the closure for 12 to 16 months to permit group members to give you an answer collectively.

“We acknowledge that we've faculties in very shut proximity to one another,” stated the Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, whose son is in third grade at Pinderhughes.

Whereas the school lacks applications for gifted college students, Smith stated, it does have greater than 60 group companions, together with the College of Maryland School of Social Work, the Maryland Meals Financial institution and the Police Division’s Western District. She requested what's going to occur to these lengthy-cultivated relationships if the school is shuttered.

Elected officers have additionally voiced their assist for Pinderhughes.

“William Pinderhughes has been a mannequin for how the group and different stakeholders can associate to enhance the local weather and assets our faculties have to supply,” Metropolis Councilman Leon Pinkett stated. “It will be a slap within the face to the group to encourage these sorts of relationships after which shut a school the place it’s being modeled.”

The advice to shut Pinderhughes is a part of an annual evaluation to find out whether or not to shut, merge or relocate some metropolis faculties. The district considers educational efficiency, enrollment and, extra just lately, a $ billion initiative to switch Baltimore’s getting old school infrastructure and construct as much as 28 fashionable buildings.

Along with Pinderhughes, Coldstream Park Elementary/Center School, Friendship Academy of Engineering and Know-how, and Data and Success Academy are all recommended for closure on the finish of the tutorial 12 months.

The school board has introduced plans to shut Rognel Heights Elementary/Center School and Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson Elementary/Center School. Board members are additionally contemplating a advice to not renew the constitution of Independence School Native I, which might power the excessive school to shut.

The Pinderhughes group has vowed to not go down and not using a struggle. Lots of have signed petitions that be aware that closing the school would go away Sandtown-Winchester and not using a center school. Additionally they level out that the school’s roof and HVAC system had been changed just lately.

The Pinderhughes constructing was inbuilt 1974, making it greater than a decade youthful than Gilmor’s constructing.

Witherspoon joined college students and academics final week to canvass the neighborhood to drum up assist. About two dozen college students marched by way of the neighborhood after school, throughout a time often stuffed with dance, tutoring, basketball, and artwork or mentoring applications. College students who take part in after school programming are additionally fed supper on the school.

Witherspoon stated he concerned college students in order that they “really feel they've a vested curiosity on this struggle.”

“We would like them to know it is not simply adults speaking for them,” he stated.

The kids marched by way of the neighborhood chanting “Save our school!” whereas inserting flyers into mailboxes encouraging residents to point out as much as the Tuesday assembly with the school board.

Witherspoon stated some kids in Sandtown are “accustomed to dropping” — however this struggle represents a educating second.

“After we win,” he stated, “we’re going to empower our youngsters to know they don’t simply should take issues mendacity down.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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Supporters say school recommended for closure is important hub for West Baltimore neighborhood - Baltimore Sun