The idea is a simple one: the schoolhouse as focal point for an entire neighborhood.
And South Baltimore's Cherry Hill neighborhood will be the latest to test that idea, under a new initiative from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's office.
Today, representatives from six Cherry Hill schools and from community groups were to gather at Arundel Elementary School to talk about ways in which Cherry Hill and the local schools can help each other.
Buoyed by the success of a similar project in the neighborhood around Dunbar High School, the mayor's office is optimistic about forging closer links between Cherry Hill schools and their surrounding community.
"I'm hoping that this initiative really motivates interest in -- and a return to -- the local schools," said Kathy Jackson, an education liaison with the mayor's office.
Schmoke, who made education a centerpiece of his agenda as mayor, long has said that schools are the pivotal institution in a community.
At the same time, he has come out strongly in favor of greater autonomy for individual schools, a policy now being tested in a 14-school pilot program.
The Dunbar and Cherry Hill projects are an attempt to encourage community involvement and additional support for local schools in a way that will benefit whole neighborhoods.
The Dunbar project, which formally got started in February, already has borne fruit, Jackson said.
Among its achievements: a mentor program at Dunbar Middle School that draws on 35 black professional men; a "Parents On Patrol" program to help bolster school security; and an introductory computer program at Dunbar Middle School, developed by IBM.
The concept is now being expanded to Cherry Hill, a tightly knit and relatively self-contained community in South Baltimore.
At today's session were to be six area schools: Patapsco Elementary, Cherry Hill Elementary, Cherry Hill Middle, Carter Goodwin Woodson Elementary, Arundel Elementary and Westport Elementary.
The meeting also was to include representatives from city agencies and from community groups, among them the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and the Fund for Educational Excellence.
Planning teams from the six schools met beforehand to discuss their needs, in preparation for discussing them publicly at the meeting, along with ideas about what the city and community can do to help.
Officials from the mayor's office said they would be there to listen, not to tell local representatives what they should do, said Annabelle Sher, education liaison for the mayor.
"It goes back to school-based management and restructuring," she said. "They best know what their students need and what their community needs."
And, within two weeks, another meeting will take place to outline new initiatives stemming from the first session that can help the Cherry Hill schools.