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Hopkins president lays out plans for East Baltimore Community School

Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels launched a public campaign Tuesday outlining Hopkins’ plans for the new East Baltimore Community School, a public contract school in Middle East.

During an hour-long presentation at the Hopkins Carey Business School, Daniels unveiled the university’s philosophy and intent to use the public school to help attract new housing and turn around the blighted urban community, now part of a $1.8 billion redevelopment by the nonprofit East Baltimore Development Inc.

It was Daniels’ first push to publicly outline the university’s role in the $40 million school venture, expected to break ground in 2012.

“The school is defining its identity with an urban focus,” Daniels told about 200 business leaders and students.

“This is very important. It’s important we be credible. It’s important that we don’t drop the ball.”

Currently in trailers on the playground of the former Elmer A. Henderson Elementary School, the EBCS, a part of the city school system, began its third year on Aug. 29 with 219 students enrolled, Daniels said.

He described some families there, including one with an incarcerated father and a “disengaged” mother, who have benefitted from the support EBCS has offered. The mother is now an “engaged” parent and the father “started going on field trips” with students after his release from prison, Daniels said.

“This story represents the power of the school,” said Daniels, who became Hopkins’ president in March 2009. He previously was provost at the University of Pennsylvania, where a similar school, the Penn Alexander School, was built and operated by the university in West Philadelphia.

“We believe the school has potential to change the families, children and the trajectory of the entire neighborhood,” he said.

Hopkins has partnered with EBDI, the state, the city and the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the redevelopment project, which has cost more than $564 million so far, $212.6 million of that in public funds.

An investigation of the project this year by The Daily Record found that it is far behind schedule and only one of five planned life sciences buildings has been built — the John G. Rangos Sr. Building, which is not completely leased.

Click here for all EBDI-related storiesThe university’s takeover of the daily operation of EBCS was cemented this year.

Daniels and university administrators from divisions including the School of Nursing, Bloomberg School of Public Health and School of Education began planning how to flood the school community with social services and a new curriculum, called Success for All, which was created by Hopkins education researchers.

Hopkins is conducting a national search for a new principal for the school and is supervising its faculty, Daniels said. That task was formerly carried out by EBDI.

The university has also pledged $3 million toward the $40 million construction costs for the new 7-acre school complex, to be built mostly with private money.

Tax increment financing bonds, sold by the city and repaid through diverted property taxes, will pay for $8 million of the school construction costs.

Building a world-class life sciences park linked to Hopkins was a major focus of the original mission of the EBDI project, which displaced more than 600 residents and resulted in the demolition of 669 houses. Another 700 buildings are ready to come down.

Instead, the school is the new focus, and Daniels talked Tuesday of its role in jump-starting the stalled project. So far, 220 housing units have been built, most of them rentals for senior citizens. The original plans called for as many as 599 residential units by now.

“The real challenge of leadership is to figure out, ‘How do we get there? Which things do we do first?’” Daniels said. “Priority and sequencing are major, and, for us, thinking of Baltimore and the community’s engagement … it is why we say EBCS will rise to the top of the list. Quite simply, we believe the school stands … as an obvious starting point in our commitment to the city and to East Baltimore.”

The school, expected to be completed in late 2013, will hold grades K-8 and will include an early childhood education center. Daniels said Hopkins is taking the lead on even the smallest decisions there, such as “what to hang in the hallway.”

“They are based on the best evidence-based research,” he said.

Hopkins educators are considering an early childhood education program called Parents And Children Together, created in Israel, Daniels said. The PACT program would require parents of children as young as 2 years old to come to school and play an active role in their child’s development. Parenting skills are also taught.

A majority of EBCS students are on free or reduced meals, a federal measurement of poverty. As the school develops, Daniels said, the enrollment is expected to expand to include middle-class families and children of Hopkins employees at the nearby medical campus.

“We expect that the school will become the core anchor of the East Baltimore development,” Daniels said. “Like the adage, ‘If parents don’t buy the school, they won’t buy the house.’ We want to see residents come.”

Daniels said entrepreneurs are beginning to eye properties around the Middle East community. They are “putting their capital at risk,” he said, adding that it is creating a halo effect around the development.

“It’s less than perfect now, but we’re betting that you guys will get this right,” he told a graduate student from the Carey School who is studying real estate.