The School Challenge Families face difficult school decisions in Baltimore

Written by Antonella Crescimbeni
#schoolchoice #teachers #administrators #parents

  • This story was reported for the Baltimore Project, a multimedia workshop exploring the impact of urban development in Baltimore. This project is a collaboration between The Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at Penn State and The School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University.

On average, sixth graders in the Baltimore City Schools are one and a half grades behind the national average for reading and math. That’s a daunting statistic for middle class families trying to decide whether they should move into, or out of, the city.

And that decision – where the middle class chooses to live – is vital to the economic revitalization of cities like Baltimore.

These stories focus on the perspectives of four people who are deeply invested in Baltimore schools – a teacher, a school administrator, a counselor and a mother of two. Their viewpoints were influenced by a a school funding controversy created by a $130 million funding gap that raised the possibility of laying off more than 1,000 teachers and school staff. Layoffs of this magnitude could potentially boost the average class size from 30 to 40, a development that would be unlikely to reduce the district’s achievement gap.

The Maryland legislature stepped in at the end of March with a $28 million stopgap agreement that delays the prospect of layoffs at least until after the end of this school year. But the long term health of public schools remains an open question.

The Teacher

Laurie Kugler teaches kindergarteners and first graders at Thomas Johnson Elementary/Middle School. She fears her effectiveness as a teacher would be dramatically affected if average class size balloons from 30 to 40.

The Administrator

Erika Brockman is executive director of the Southwest Baltimore Charter School. She is determined to provide her students with the best education possible. She says that school funding is her greatest challenge in reaching that goal.

The Counselor

Arounda Riley is the family community coordinator at Stuart Hill Academy, just a few blocks away from Hollins Market. She said that most of the kids who attend Stuart Hill Academy have issues ranging from behavioral problems to homelessness. Riley said she fears that funding cuts may force her to leave Baltimore.

The Mom – Episode One

Erin Tallarico is an adult cystic fibrosis nurse at John Hopkins University. She’s lived in Baltimore for 12 years. She lives in a remodeled row house on the federal Hill neighborhood with her husband, their 4-year-old daughter Libby and their son, Max, 10 months. She says she moved into the Federal Hill neighborhood because she thought it was the perfect place to raise a family. But she said the prospect of cuts to music and arts programs in the schools is making her consider moving. Tallarico said she loves Baltimore, but the city needs to invest in the public education system if Baltimore wants to have her family in its future.

The Mom – Episode Two

Tallarico said a good education that includes music and the arts is vital to a child’s early development.

The Mom – Episode Three

Tallarico has actively helped to build a community of parents that is raising money to help local schools, even though she said she doesn’t think constant fundraising should be the responsibility of parents. Tallarico chose Baltimore to raise her family because of its trademark charm, but said she doesn’t know what the incentive is to stay if she can’t even send her kids to quality local schools.

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