October 23, 2014

Baltimore teachers, students rally for $10 million from City Hall for ‘community schools’

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stokes community schools rally
Photo above: Councilman Carl Stokes speaks to Baltimore City Hall rally for community schools

By Alexis Webb

Alexis@MarylandReporter.com

Hundreds of Baltimore area teachers, parents, and students rallied in Baltimore City Hall Tuesday afternoon to demand support and funding for more inner city community schools.

The Baltimore Teachers Union, Maryland Communities United and the Central Labor Council organized rally goers on Holliday Street in hopes of compelling Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City Council to pledge a financial commitment of $10 million for emerging community schools.

What are ‘community schools’?

Community schools integrate the personal and academic aspects of student life into one learning environment to improve overall performance. The schools also offer personalized curriculums and are open to everyone – all day, everyday, weekends and evenings.

Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English called for the city council to support community schools in the next fiscal year and create a community schools task force.

“This interagency group will create impactful ways to implement community schools across the district,” said English said.

“We can do this Baltimore. We can fund our schools! Let the Baltimore City Council hear our demands,” English said.

“What do we want? Community Schools. When do we want them? Now,” the crowd continually shouted.

Local principals, teachers, parents and students also presented speeches before the crowd urging Baltimore’s elected officials to fund more community schools in the area while wearing “community school” t-shirts and raising posters.

Baltimore City public schools have about 85,000 students and a budget of $1.3 billion, $900 million coming from state taxpayers

Principal shares dramatic success story

“Communities know their schools, and when the school in that community rises the community rises,” said Chris Battaglia, principal of Benjamin Franklin High School at Masonville Cove.

Benjamin Franklin High School located in the Brooklyn – Curtis Bay area once struggled with gang violence, teen pregnancy, and drugs but has made considerable improvement since receiving funding to become a community school in 2011. The school’s 91% increase in enrollment, decrease in suspensions and top five percentile SAT/ACT scores were referenced by Battaglia.

“I stand to compel you to fund the community school strategies… when we strengthen our schools, we strengthen our families,” Erica Johnson, a middle school teacher said. “The school is the hub of the community.”

“Learning does not stop at community schools,” added Chelsea Gilmer, a student Shady Springs Elementary School.

Chants for more community schools

Baltimore has 20 community schools across the area with institutions servicing each City Council District except District 8. Rally goers hope to see more community schools around the Baltimore Metro area with “210” being the number participants at the rally chanted during call and response.

“I’d like to say thank you to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings- Blake. She funded community schools before…but we need her and her colleagues to do it again,” Principal Mark Gaither of Wolfe Street Academy said to the members of the council.

Wolfe Street Academy, a conversion charter school, is a Baltimore City community school operating under the Baltimore Curriculum Project and known for academic achievement. The project, which helps fund opportunities for disadvantaged youth and Baltimore City Schools, also covers schools like City Springs Elementary/Middle School and Hampstead Hill Academy and has helped public schools later become community schools.

The rally was attended by a couple of members of the Baltimore City Council.

“I stopped by on behalf of my colleagues” said Councilman Carl Stokes of the Baltimore City Council 12th District, “…we believe every student should have the ability to have a great class day and beyond the class day.”