City school teacher Earl Johnson had job offers this year from Howard County, Washington, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and Edison Schools Inc., the for-profit company taking over three of Baltimore's failing elementary schools.
He chose Edison.
They have a mission to tnrn the school around and get it back on the map," said Johnson, who will teach first grade this fall at Montebello Elementary, one of the states worst-performing schools. "That's the kind of recipe I'm looking for. I want to be a part of that. I see Edison as the cavalry. They're calling in the cavalry."
More than 100 of Edison's newest employees - teachers, administrators and support staff at Montebello, Gilmor and Furman L. Templeton - spent last week being introduced to a new curriculum, each other and the way of doing things at Edison.
They come from as close to home as Baltimore and as far away as Kansas and Caifornia. Their ages range from early 20s to mid-60s.
One, Sara Lucas, turned in her final college term paper Thursday; another has been with the city school system for 39 years. Also among the group is the daughter of former Baltimore schools Superintendent Richard C. Hunter.
"It's just kind of rejuvenated my teaching career," said Michael Rest, a fifth-grade teacher at Furman L. Templeton who studied conservation biology at the University of Colorado.
"Because the last couple of years it was just a feeling of isolation and not part of something bigger than my classroom," he said.
Edison's draw, teachers say, includes the technological resources, the support structure and the academic program, which includes music, art, physical education and 90 minutes of readin instruction every day.
"That's one of the things that captured my attention with Edison," said Johnson, 28, who taught at Cecil Elementary last year. "I mean, hey, what more could you ask for?'
Though the school day and school year are longer at Edison schools, the paycheck is another incentive.
As teachers, we love what we do," said Cory Perkins, 32, a former city special-education-teacher who grew up in Harlem, N.Y., six blocks from the Apollo Theater. "But we're also professionals. Treat us that way."
The beginning salary for a certified teacher at Edison is about $34,000, said Dwight D. Jones, company's vice president for school operations. In the city, first year teachers earn $31,722 under a new pay scale effective July 1.
Michaelle Nesbit, who retired from the city school system in 1996 after 39 years and has since served as a mentor to new teachers, joined Edison for another reason: hope.
"Why not try it?" said the new reading curriculum coordinator at Montebello. 'It's to benefit the children, so that they become achievers. And it's new, and I like challenges.
"Not knocking Baltimore City but it's time for a change."
Everyone who worked at the three schools last year was allowed to reapply for his or her job, but most are not returning, either because they didn't want to or weren't hired by Edison.
At Furman L. Templeton, one teacher is coming back, said Darryl Bonds, the new principal.
Of a staff of nearly 30 teachers, three or four taught at other Baltimore schools, he said, and three will be in their first year in the classroom. Most of the rest have one to six years of experience.
"As many veteran teachers as I can get, that's what I've been going after, he said.
Teachers are contracted by Edison for one year.
Johnson graduated from Morgan State University in 1997 as an education and urban studies major.
A Baltimore native who attended Frederick Douglass High School, he knew what to expect when he arrived at Cecil three years ago as a first-year teacher.
'I knew coming in what some of the deficiencies were," he said.
"With my background being in urban studies you're kind of familiar with what education is like in urban America."
But familiarity didn't translate into comfort.
The politics of the city school system is both pathetic and beyond compare," he said. "Children are not No 1 on the agenda.
"I was always taught that a school is no better than its administration. That's what it really boils down to."
Johnson, whose 4-year-old daughter wiil attend Montebello's pre-kmdergarten program, is adamant in his belief that teachers should be certified.
Since he isn't, allowed to walk into a hospital and perform brain surgery, Johnson said, he doesn't think a brain surgeon should be able to walk into an elementary school and teach reading.
Not everyone can teach a first-grader to read, said Johnson.
"That's hard work. That's rocket science.
Without certification, he said, "It's a disgrace to the profession. It hurts children. The sensitivity in teaching is not there."
Under Edison's five-year eontract with the state, at least 80 percent of all teachers at Montebello, Gilmor and Furman L. Templeton must be certified.
Bonds, who served most recently as a middle school principal in Wichita, Kan. was surprised by the number of applicants without state certification.