As part of its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, Baltimore City Public Schools has employed a holistic parent engagement strategy to turn around struggling schools. One principal built relationships with parents and students by shaking hands before and after school each day. Teachers sent out flyers, knocked on doors, and made phone calls to parents to discuss their children’s performance. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education
School turnarounds require changes in school culture and strong relationships with parents
Commodore John Rogers Elementary/Middle School is located in an impoverished neighborhood of East Baltimore that struggles with high rates of gang violence and teen pregnancy. Ninety-five percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and many are three or more grade levels behind in reading when they enter. The school floundered academically for years. In 2010, based on its test scores, Commodore ranked 872 out of 875 schools in Maryland. It enrolled only 225 students, half of the building’s capacity. Four principals had come and gone during the previous five years.
In the past four years, however, the school’s results have improved measurably. Enrollment more than doubled, chronic absences dropped significantly, and the percentage of students proficient in reading and mathematics rose 20 percent. In 2012, the school’s mathematics performance exceeded the districtwide average.
Creating More High Quality School Options
How did this happen?
In 2010, Baltimore City Public Schools chose Commodore to participate in its “Expanding Great Options” initiative, an effort launched by former Superintendent Andrés Alonso to increase the number of high quality schools in the district. The city opened new schools, expanded the capacity of high-performing ones, closed the lowest performers, and began working to turn around struggling schools. During the first full year of the program, the Baltimore City school board approved eight new schools and moved to close nine low-performing ones. In addition, all high schools became schools of choice.
Commodore was among a group of persistently low-performing schools selected to be part of a districtwide turnaround initiative, which brought intensive support underwritten by the State’s Federal Race to the Top award and School Improvement Grant. The goal: transform school culture and dramatically accelerate learning outcomes. Interventions varied by school, but included new leadership, extra support staff, a longer learning day, new technology, more staff mentoring, and professional development for teachers.
Parent Engagement a Top Priority
Marc Martin, a seasoned school leader with a strong track record of success, became Commodore’s new principal. In addition to hiring new staff and renovating the building, Martin made parent engagement a top priority. He set out to get to know each parent personally, to build trust and hope. “I literally slept here during the summer before the school opened,” he said. “We sent out flyers, made phone calls and knocked on doors to let families know we were here.”