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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 31, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 28
Teaming Up for New City Schools

Two newly chartered Baltimore schools Have Hopkins ties

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Two new innovative Baltimore City charter schools will feature strong ties to Johns Hopkins institutions.

The Baltimore Civitas School, which will have a prominent public service theme, will open this fall and be operated by the Center for Social Organization of Schools. CSOS, established in 1966 as an educational research and development center at the university, will also design the curriculum and help recruit the school's staff.

Set to open in fall 2009, The Reach! School will offer a comprehensive academic program for grades 6-12 and focus on preparing its students for a postsecondary education and careers in health and construction. The school will be operated by Civic Works, a nonprofit urban service corps and AmeriCorps program, in partnership with The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Associate Builders and Contractors of Maryland. Founded in 1993, Civic Works focuses on community service and skills development for Baltimore youth.

The Baltimore school board approved the creation of the two middle-high schools, and three others, in early March. Baltimore Civitas and Reach! are part of Andres Alonso's "transformation schools" initiative that will create two dozen such small and innovative schools — which combine grades 6 through 12 — over the next four years. The new CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System said that the initiative will transform secondary education in the city by providing creative learning alternatives and models for struggling high schools.

Both Reach! and Baltimore Civitas will feature "looping" faculty rotations where students get to know all the teachers in an intimate academic community.

Matt Wernsdorfer, a senior organizational facilitator for CSOS, said that the Civitas School seeks to produce "active and engaged citizens" who are prepared for both college and careers in public service. He said the school wants to graduate "independent thinkers" with an articulate and informed voice on issues of local, national and international importance.

"There isn't anything currently like this in Baltimore," Wernsdorfer said. "We will, of course, meet all the standard Maryland high school graduate requirements, but we're upping the ante by focusing on the definition of a good citizen. Many of the lessons the students will be taught will blend in that idea of civic engagement."

Wernsdorfer, who will be Civitas' principal, said the concept for the school had been worked on by CSOS and planning staff for years, but the specific design came in response to a request for proposals published by the Baltimore City Public School System in January. CSOS later partnered with the Baltimore Urban Debate League and the Mayor's Office, both of which Wernsdorfer said were "essential voices" in the school's formation.

"For example, BUDL not only shares our vision for articulate students engaged in our communities; we see debate as a pedagogical tool that will echo throughout every classroom," he said.

The Civitas School will open with grades 6-9 and eventually expand up to grade 12. The school will be located in Northwest Baltimore, but a specific location has not yet been chosen.

In addition to learning basic skills in subjects like math and English, the students will work on self-generated projects, such as an urban renewal program or an advocacy effort.

"They might want to focus on homelessness and help design policy or generate a proposal," he said. "We want students to leave us with a control of their own lives so they can assume a productive future. This doesn't necessarily involve postsecondary education. They might want to be a state trooper, for example, which is a wonderful public service."

CSOS already operates a city charter school, the Baltimore Talent Development High School, which opened in fall 2004. Located in West Baltimore, the citywide school draws on the center's Talent Development model, a comprehensive reform archetype for large high schools facing serious problems with student attendance, discipline, achievement scores and dropout rates. Talent Development's faculty encourage and develop the individual talents of each student, nurturing his or her academic development in small classes with high expectations.

The Reach! School — whose name is an acronym for Research Educational Achievement: Construction and Health Partnership — will serve 500 to 600 students once fully operational.

Reach! students will complete a program in either health service or construction, with a one- year apprenticeship in the trade. Students on the health services track will take courses in such areas as human body systems, medical terminology, and surgical and pharmacy tech training.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital staff will help design the school's health curriculum. The hospital will also offer students workplace learning opportunities such as field trips, job shadowing, mentoring, tech support training and internships offered in the summer and during the school year.

Civic Works began its effort to develop a charter school three years ago and, in search of partners, approached Deborah Knight-Kerr, then director of the Office of Community Education Projects at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, who spearheaded the health services component of the initiative. Civic Works and Johns Hopkins have a long history of engagement, collaborating in the past on several workforce development training projects.


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