Of the six city schools slated for closure this summer, Abbottston Elementary has been granted a reprieve while Langston Hughes Elementary has appealed the school board’s decision.
Abbottston, in Waverly, was one of several Baltimore schools targeted for closure due to low enrollment, but because of a letter writing campaign and public outcry, the board postponed its original decision on Abbottston’s fate from December until February.
The board has decided to give the school one more year to increase enrollment, according to Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
Clarke and community groups had aggressively campaigned against the small (186 students) elementary school’s closure, arguing that Abbottston’s numbers would rise when it launched an additional Pre-k program.
Clarke credits Sen. Joan Carter Conaway (43rd District) with reversing the board’s position. Conway negotiated with Schools CEO Gregory E. Thornton, according to Clarke. “I don’t know what she said, but whatever it was, it worked,” she said, calling the decision “a welcome reprieve.”
The school board did vote to close five schools this summer based on the school system’s recommendations: Dr. Rayner Brown Elementary Middle, Heritage High School, Northeast Middle School, W.E. B. DuBois High School, and Langston Hughes Elementary.
Numbers Are Not Everything
Langston Hughes has appealed the board’s decision to the Maryland Board of Education.
Located at 5011 Arbutus Avenue off of Reisterstown Road, the school was recommended for closure because of declining enrollment, small building size and the number of elementary or elementary-middle schools within a mile of its campus.
But advocates for Langston Hughes say the school’s numbers didn’t start to nosedive until after the closure was announced two years ago.
Enrollment in 2013 was 217 students. Projected enrollment for 2013-14 was 229 students, but only 156 students signed up, according to school documents.
George Mitchell, president of the Langston Hughes Community Action Association that filed the appeal, says the school has a lot going for it in an economically depressed and crime ridden community.
“If the school were not working, I would be the first to say shut it down,” says Mitchell, who also runs an after-school program in the school building. “But it is.”
What’s more, Mitchell asserts, the school has a well-maintained building, community support, a dedicated principal and students whose performance is better than other schools in the area that are planned to remain open.
State Education Board spokesman William Reinhard confirmed that a discussion about Langston Hughes Elementary is scheduled for March 23 and a public hearing at school board headquarters may be scheduled at a later date.
City schools had no comment on Langston Hughes’ appeal. The School Board is required to file its response to the appeal with the state board by February 23.
Closure Moved Up a Year
Langston Hughes was originally slated to shut down in 2016, but the closure date was accelerated one year as enrollment continued to fall.
Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton (6th District) said the school lost some students after its closure was announced, but its kindergarten is currently at capacity.
Mitchell says he wonders if Langston Hughes’ closure may have to something to do with future plans for nearby Park Heights, which is in the early phase of redevelopment.
He says he wouldn’t be surprised if a charter school took over the building, which, he says, has a fairly new roof and boiler as well as a newer library. “For a charter, this would be a ‘turn-key’ school,” he said.
Asked about plans for the building, schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said that when Langston Hughes is closed it will simply be surplussed to the city.