FAST building future undecided

Discussion–among residents and stakeholders, anyway–has returned once again to the empty school building at 801 S. Highland Ave., vacated last June by Friendship Academy of Science and Technology.

On April 3 of last year, Baltimore City Public Schools held a public meeting at the Southeast Anchor Library to discuss the process of establishing a new elementary/middle school at 801 S. Highland Ave. Residents, as well as teachers, parents and administrators from Southeast schools, were asked for input on the new school and to address questions including who would run the school, how students would be selected for the school (zone vs. lottery) and what programming the school would offer.

BCPS also queried stakeholders on how to select an advisory committee to assist in the planning process for the new school.

At the conclusion of that meeting, Michael Sarbanes, executive director of Partnerships, Communications and Community Engagement for BCPS, told attendees that BCPS would “summarize what we heard and bring it back to you” in a format that shows “how it starts to gel into different options.”

At 10 months later, that follow-up has not happened. But a lot has happened since last April–Dr. Gregory Thornton took the reins as BCPS CEO; Larry Hogan was elected governor; Hogan’s first proposed budget proposes $35 million cut in funding to Baltimore City schools.

The Guide is awaiting a response to a query sent to Edie House-Foster, BCPS manager of public information, on the status of 801 S. Highland Ave.
In the meantime, the topic has been broached in several Southeast circles.
Using the building as a second campus for nearby Hampstead Hill

Academy, a charter school operated by Baltimore Curriculum Project, has been an idea that has held some traction since 801 S. Highland Ave. was vacated.

The 46th District Delegation–State Sen. Bill Ferguson and delegates Luke Clippinger, Pete Hammen and Brooke Lierman wrote a letter in support of the idea, and the Latino Providers Network and Canton Community Association voted to support the Baltimore Curriculum Project in its push for a second Hampstead Hill campus.

According to an article in the February edition of Hampstead Hill Academy’s newsletter, the proposal is to convert the original Hampstead Hill campus, 500 S. Linwood Ave., into a preK-grade 2 facility, and to put grades 3-8 at 801 S. Highland Ave., starting in the fall of 2019, for a total capacity of 1,450 students.

City Councilman Jim Kraft signed the delegation’s letter in support of the second Hampstead Hill campus, but at his state of the district address in Canton last month, he said differently.

The councilman noted that running a split-campus school is a “unique challenge.”

“Today we have a man who can meet it,” he continued. “Will he be here tomorrow? Five years from now? Ten? What we will build on that site will be there for the next 50 years.”

Questioned post-address by Jon McGill, who lives two blocks from 801 S. Highland Ave., Kraft said that he had signed the delegation’s letter of support to keep BCPS from seeking an outside operator to put a school in the building. He also reiterated his position that an elementary/middle school serving the Canton/Highlandtown area is needed.

“We need another school down there,” Kraft said. “We all know we need another school down there.”

McGill is director of academic affairs for Baltimore Curriculum Project, but he told the Guide that he was speaking–both at Kraft’s address and in a subsequent interview–as a Canton resident and Canton Community Association board member.

McGill noted, as have many, that there has been no follow-up to the community from BCPS regarding the vacant building.

“I don’t think they’re looking to bring in an operator from outside the city,” he speculated. “I think they’ve learned from that experience that that’s not a workable premise.”

Still, said McGill, the Canton community should be involved in any decision-making regarding 801 S. Highland Ave.

“From a community association perspective, we would like to make sure we are part of the conversation, especially with what happens with that building,” he said, adding that, were BCPS to “simply drop a school of 11, 12, or 1,300 kids into that building, there are all kinds of questions about parking, traffic flow, neighborhood impact and where those kids are being drawn from.”

In the meantime, the Hampstead Hill newsletter reports that Principal Matthew Hornbeck, with Ferguson and Hammen, met with BCPS CEO Thornton in late January.

“It was a productive conversation, but the decision to go with an out-of-town operator, expand [Hampstead Hill Academy] or make the new school a traditional K-8 operated by the district is still up in the air,” states the newsletter.

By Erik Zygmont

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