By Deborah Bailey
Special to the AFRO

Declining enrollment, failing building conditions and the two-year running COVID-19 crisis collided to create the perfect storm as Baltimore City School Board members made the decision to permanently close three Baltimore City Schools this week.  

Despite pleas from scores of community members in attendance at this week’s virtual board meeting, Baltimore’s Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary, New Era Academy High School in South Baltimore and Steuart Hill Academic Academy in Southwest will close at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. 

“The hardest calls that I have had to make in this work is the recommendation to close schools,” Dr. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, said at the Jan. 25 board meeting before the vote.

“For each of the schools with recommendations for closure before the board, there is not enough enrollment to support full and strong programming at these schools,” Santelises continued.       

Durryle Brooks, chair of the board’s policy committee, took the board to task, casting the only vote in opposition to the closure of the three schools. 

“We have no data to suggest that closing schools actually translates to educational gains for our students. I have not received any district data that tells me otherwise,” Brooks said in a statement to AFRO readers. 

“When the community engagement process is not robust, and families do not have time to process and be fully engaged in the planning of that closure, then I think we need to rethink our approach,” Brooks added.   

Asiah Parker, executive director of No Boundaries Coalition said the decision to close Eutaw Marshburn and the other schools was announced with little notice to the community. 

“The school district has moved very quickly to close the school with little notice, giving only the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s for public comment,” Parker said in an oped (The Sun, Dec. 16, 2021) she co-authored with Greg Maggiano, Memorial Episcopal Church Rector. 

Santelises pulled Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary School in the Oliver Neighborhood of East Baltimore from the list of schools to close.  She said facilities at the Harris Elementary School had not declined to the level of the other three schools recommended for closure, but the enrollment decline remains unsustainable.   

“To our partners and community leaders who are asking for time to support Bernard Harris: We need you to deliver,” Santelises implored. 

“You committed to doing a campaign to increase enrollment at the school and so I’m offering you the opportunity to do so. You have to increase enrollment not only at not just Bernard Harris but also Johnston Square,” she added. 

State Senator Cory McCray (D-45 Baltimore City) and former State Senator Nathaniel McFadden, are two East Baltimore community leaders who vigorously appealed to keep the Bernard Harris Elementary open.  The two co-authored an op-ed earlier this month requesting cooperation from the School board to “work with the community.” 

McCray expressed gratitude for the decision to keep the school open and acknowledged there was much work ahead to ensure Harris won’t appear on next year’s closure list. 

“I would like to thank all the folks who have steadfastly persisted in the effort to keep Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School open. That determination reassures my commitment” McCray said.

“We must all roll up our sleeves and put forth the requisite effort to improve enrollment, principal and teacher retention, and capital investment,” McCray added. 

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