A belated push to save Harriet Tubman
Sun photographer Algerina Perna and I went yesterday to a community meeting at Harriet Tubman Elementary, where we found a dozen staff members, parents and neighborhood residents brainstorming to try to save the school before the April 28 board vote on the reorganization plan.
The group is rushing to submit something to the board this week with ideas for recruiting more students to the Sandtown school, recommended for closure because of low enrollment and academic performance. Tubman has 190 students enrolled and space for 360, according to the system. Last year, its MSA scores took a big dive; the third-grade reading pass rate was 37 percent; in math, it was 40. Fourth and fifth grades were somewhat better. The staff members at the meeting said there's been a turnaround this year under the leadership of a new principal, and they haven't had a chance to show it.
One question I had for Lou Fields, a community activist who organized the meeting: Why didn't this group attend the COMAR hearings? He said -- echoing complaints at the hearings -- that the locations at Poly and Lake Clifton made it difficult for west-side residents to attend. He said the room was packed when Tubman had its own meeting with system officials earlier in the month.
Fields argues that the way the school closure proposal was announced was hurtful to the parents and students who learned of it on the news. He says the school, home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's OrchKids program, is a bright spot in a blighted neighborhood.
Most of the concerns I heard during the hour I stayed were social rather than academic: the gang-infested neighborhoods kids would have to walk through to get to their new schools, the trouble parents would have getting there. One teacher said she's worried about disruption in the mental health services that more than half her class receive. The group was searching for a hook, something it could do to make the case that it has to stay open.
There was talk of a public relations campaign, of recruiting parents who will pledge to send their children to Tubman next year, of sprucing up the school and asking Dr. Alonso and board members to visit. But I'll be surprised if the plan changes this late in the game.