School hopes to change its name, image Hampstead Hill hopes to shed old reputation

December 03, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

What's in a name?

Plenty of bad memories, for students and staff at Hampstead Hill Middle School in the 100 block of S. Ellwood Ave. in East Baltimore.

In the past year and a half, the school's image has been tarnished by a brutal beating in nearby Patterson Park, complaints from neighbors about rowdy students and the removal of two principals.

"When people hear the name 'Hampstead Hill,' they automatically associate that name with a bad school," concedes Kevin Harahan, interim principal. "No matter what we do here, it will always be that way."

His solution: Change the school's name.

A City Council bill introduced last month by Councilman John Cain, D-1st, would formally change the name to "Highlandtown Middle School" next Sept. 1.

The aim is to wipe away Hampstead Hill's disruptive image, and free the school to continue to pursue a variety of changes that Mr. Harahan insists are making the school better.

"If we change the name of the school, that will have a psychological impact on people," says Mr. Harahan, who this week marks his first anniversary as interim principal. "We'll forget all about Hampstead Hill Middle School."

Few doubt that the 1,047-student school, built in the 1930s, could use an image make-over.

"The reputation has been, it's a tough school," says Mr. Harahan. In the public's view, "kids come here and are disruptive in school and disruptive passing through the neighborhoods.

"That has been the reputation in the school -- that is not what is happening here now."

In his year as interim principal, Mr. Harahan has taken a number of steps to improve the school's safety and climate.

He and his staff have begun an after-school program that currently involves about 100 students in study hall and recreational activities three days a week.

Teachers at the school are more active in supervising students, and the administration is more consistent in enforcing school rules, says Mr. Harahan.

And the principal responds quickly to neighbors with complaints about students.

Those efforts apparently are beginning to pay off.

"What I've noticed is, I'm not getting any complaints about the school," says Councilman Cain, noting that he used to get many.

dTC Mr. Harahan seized on the idea of changing the name in September, after the sighting of an armed intruder forced evacuation of the school -- bringing yet another wave of unwanted publicity.

Mr. Cain predicts smooth passage for his bill, noting that a panel of students, staff and community residents endorsed the new name.

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