September 23, 2011

Envisioning a community-changing school

President Daniels talks with business leaders about Johns Hopkins’ plans

A fledgling K-8 East Baltimore charter school represents a “poignant, vivid, and galvanizing place” for Johns Hopkins University to reaffirm its commitment to the present and future fortunes of the community, said Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels in his remarks Sept. 20 as inaugural speaker for the 2011–2012 Carey Business School’s Leaders + Legends lecture series.

Daniels delivered his remarks, titled “Enduring Institutions, Evolving Cities: Johns Hopkins and Baltimore,” to a collection of regional business and community leaders and policymakers, as well as members of the Carey School community, many of whom live, work, study or conduct business in East Baltimore. His talk examined the symbiotic 130-year relationship between city and university by citing the East Baltimore Community School, a small start-up public institution with fewer than 220 students, as an illustration “to help concretize the ways in which Johns Hopkins has committed to, and will continue to commit to, the betterment of our community here in Baltimore.”

Declaring it a “core priority” in the sweeping $1.8 billion East Baltimore Development Inc. initiative, Daniels outlined the ways in which the school has already started to change the lives of individuals, families and, by increments, a community long beset by poverty, crime and drug abuse.

“We believe the school has the potential to change a child’s trajectory, a family’s trajectory and, indeed, the trajectory of an entire neighborhood,” Daniels said.

The EBCS opened in 2009 in a temporary location, a former city elementary school. In August of this year, Johns Hopkins and Morgan State University assumed operating responsibilities, with Johns Hopkins’ School of Education taking over day-to-day operations as part of the partnership. In August 2013, the school is scheduled to relocate to a new 90,000-square-foot facility, part of a seven-acre campus within the EBDI redevelopment area, directly north of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. The first new school built in East Baltimore in a quarter-century, it will be complemented by a $10 million 28,000-square-foot early childhood center, the two facilities providing a “connected continuum of care” for children through grade 8, according to Daniels. The school itself will have the capacity to accommodate almost 550 students.

When completed, the EBDI area will feature affordable and market-rate housing, a grocery store and other retail offerings, and a fitness center, as well as lab space for bioscience startup firms and a signature urban park, presenting the potential for sustainable business development and partnership opportunities of special interest to many in attendance at the lecture.

Daniels stressed the challenges—and opportunities—inherent in the daily running of a startup school. “That includes everything from recruiting teachers and designing curricula to deciding the color of the hallway bulletin boards,” he said. “Even our smallest decisions … are deeply rooted in the best evidence-based research available.”

Citing the “depth and breadth of the community’s problems and privations,” Daniels also acknowledged the “significant challenges” facing the EBCS. Noting research that links lower socioeconomic status with language development and long-term memory problems, Daniels emphasized that the school “must respond” to these findings. One long-term strategy is in promoting the EBDI as a mixed-income, socioeconomically diverse community. “We know that [all] children thrive in socioeconomically diverse settings,” said Daniels, citing the benefits to both children from higher-income families as well as those from more modest backgrounds.

Another key component to the school’s success, Daniels added, is to “focus holistically on each child’s behavioral, cognitive and physical health. Simply put, we can design the most dynamic and engaging educational program in the world, but if the kids are too hungry to pay attention or sit still long enough to listen, they can’t and won’t take advantage of the pedagogical experience,” he said.

That experience is predicated in large part on an extensively tested comprehensive education model, Success for All, designed by two Johns Hopkins professors and currently in use in more than 1,500 schools nationwide. “We’re thrilled to be bringing this marquee program home again,” Daniels said.

To meet the myriad challenges represented by the undertaking, Daniels pointed to the many areas of the university, in addition to the School of Education, that are contributing their time, passion and expertise, ranging from mental health counseling from the schools of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing, to a Preparatory branch opening by the Peabody Conservatory to after-school programs and sports clinics hosted by the Athletic Department.

Daniels also acknowledged the numerous commitments made by the Carey School to the overall well-being of Baltimore, including Innovation for Humanity’s marketing plans for urban farms to combat city “food deserts”; Stocks in the Future, a financial literacy program for middle school students; and CareyServes, a student-formed club engaged in volunteer services throughout the city.

In closing, Daniels reiterated the high hopes that Johns Hopkins has for EBCS’s becoming an educational and institutional anchor for the EBDI development. “Over time, we expect the centripetal pull of this school, and all it has to offer, will draw the nascent community together, helping to forge a new, shared sense of place,” he predicted. “It’s not hard to imagine the radical effect a stable, safe and sought-after neighborhood could have on East Baltimore and the entire city.”