Two Remarkable Charter Schools in Baltimore, MD

In her blog post of May 25, Louise recounts A Gathering of Educators in Boston.  In her telling of the gathering, she focuses on the predominant celebration the work of David and Frances Hawkins.  One sidebar she sidestepped was the prevalent discouragement of most of these distinguished educators about the current state of public education...for all the reasons we are all too well aware of.  I was able to chime in about two significant exceptions. Back in May I spent four days at two remarkable charter schools in Baltimore, Maryland, City Neighbors Charter School and City Neighbors Hamilton Charter School.  They are “cousin” schools founded by the same visionary, Bobbi Macdonald, in 2005 and 2009 respectively, in the northeastern section of the city.

Both schools are progressive, inspired by many wonderful influences, including the Reggio Approach, John Dewey, Eleanor Duckworth, and others.  In fact, the associated foundation of the schools, City Neighbors Foundation, hosts a conference for local progressive educators.  In the words of Mrs. Macdonald, City Neighbors Foundation "strives to not only provide an outstanding public education to the students who enter our doors each morning, but we also strive to serve as a model for urban public education that is progressive, child-centered, developmentally appropriate, arts integrated, and community engaged.  We strive to intentionally disseminate best practices and create forums that allow urban educators to redefine public education."

In my judgement, they are succeeding.  They have achieved a high level of relationship with all of their students and parents.  The environment of each school, though very different (CNCS is in a church school building and CNHCS is in an older elementary-high school), is inspiring, warm, comfortable, safe, like a museum, rich in creative materials, organized, and  beautiful.  And, the work their students are doing and creating is authentic and meaningful.

The schools invited me to work with them on their environments, their reflective practice, and project based learning.  For me, it’s always a treat and a privilege to work with high level thinkers.  Among many things they shared are two contemporary sources for inspiration: Stuart Firestein in his book, How Ignorance Drives Science, and Sal Vasselarro in his book, Out of the Classroom and into the World.  What stood out for me, in particular though, was their commitment to learning themselves, and, therefore, not surprisingly, their openness to other ideas and this case: mine.  A constructive dialogue developed in each school in a very short time.

In the words of one of the faculty members, "Today was a fun learning experience in expressing and honing the many voices of educators that represent our different ideas and thoughts...all working toward the same thing; which is to cultivate inspiration and learning in them a voice to express themselves as they grow to understand the world around them."

These two already excellent schools are going to get better and better.  And, as they do, the more, in the hopes of their founder, they will help to redefine public education.