Most parties seem to agree that the 50-year-old middle school should be closed, but nostalgia and uncertainty cause uneasiness

Pimlico is being missed already

January 19, 2007|By Sara Neufeld and Nicole Fuller | Sara Neufeld and Nicole Fuller,Sun reporters

When it came time to vote on the fate of Pimlico Middle School, a Baltimore education committee was nearly unanimous that the school should close this summer.

No one had turned out at the meeting Wednesday night to demand that it stay open. Even the principal had agreed that it should shut down.

But some students were unsettled yesterday to learn that this year at Pimlico will likely be their last. They worried about the distance to their new schools, and the potential for gang rivalries in a different environment.

About a dozen students interviewed outside the school during dismissal time said Pimlico has been improving in recent months, crediting a new principal, Donyall Dickey, with cleaning litter from the school's floors and bathrooms and inspiring students to do well academically. Now, they said, isn't the time to give up on Pimlico.

"With our new principal, he's trying to make a lot of changes for the students and if they close it down, they're never going to see it," said Iamari Collins, 13, an eighth-grader. "We get rewarded now for positive behavior. So if they close the school, it's not fair to us."

The city school board will vote Feb. 27 on a committee recommendation to close Pimlico Middle and Thomas G. Hayes Elementary this summer, and to phase out several other middle schools over the next few years. If all of the recommendations are adopted, about two-thirds of city middle schools will close in coming years.

Eventually, all students who would have gone to Pimlico would stay in their elementary schools, which are expanding to serve sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

But officials don't want to send children who have already started middle school back to an elementary, so Pimlico's 92 current sixth-graders would attend Garrison Middle next year for seventh grade. The 149 current seventh-graders would attend eighth grade at Dr. Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy, which would then close in the summer of 2008.

Students interviewed said sending them to Garrison could spell disaster. "Pimlico and Garrison, we don't mix," Collins said. "Some of the students in Garrison, they want to fight us. They claim that they don't like us. If Pimlico and Garrison come together, there's going to be a war."

Pimlico, then a junior high, opened in the fall of 1956. A Sun article at the time described the school as "big, expansive and sparkling, with shiny new desks and chairs, practice ranges, gym equipment, polished corridors and pastel walls." Its projected enrollment was 1,925.

Today, the school's enrollment is 473, as many neighborhood children are already staying in their elementary schools for sixth through eighth grades.

In the fall of 2005, with room in the city schools for 125,000 students and fewer than 85,000 enrolled, the school board voted to reduce operating space by 15 percent over three years. Officials mentioned Pimlico as a model of a school operating inefficiently: With windows that don't fully close, it wastes electricity. With halls far wider than they need to be, it wastes space.

Many who attended Pimlico in the early years remember it fondly. "It was a delightful way to spend three years," said Barry Rascovar, a consultant and former Sun editorial writer who attended Pimlico in the early 1960s. "You had a new building with new equipment and what looked to us like a giant playground area and athletic fields."

Marshall B. Paul, a Baltimore attorney who was a classmate of Rascovar, said he "probably took for granted the fact that the school was new and the facilities were just as state-of-the-art as they could be that time."

Alumni remember strong teachers who kept a good handle on student discipline and instantly put a lid on fights.

"The teachers didn't let you get away with anything," said Joseph Sacco, who was a member of the school's first graduating class in 1957 and now directs the Baltimore Truancy Assessment Center, which links truant city students with social services.

In recent years, Pimlico has been on a probationary list to be tagged by the state as "persistently dangerous." It has had rapid administrative turnover, with a different principal each of the past three years, and its test scores are among the lowest in the state. Last spring, more than two-thirds of students failed the state reading test, and more than 80 percent failed in math.

School system officials said that Pimlico was selected for shuttering because it is outdated and would not work well with the system's new push to create smaller, more personalized school environments. Thomas Stosur, the school system's senior facilities planner, said that putting 1,500 students together typically "doesn't work out real well."

If Pimlico stays open, by next school year it would enroll about 250 students in seventh and eighth grades, Stosur said.

Officials said the money needed to keep Pimlico Middle open - about $500,000 annually in maintenance and utility costs, plus an additional $1 million to update old boilers - could be better spent at other schools.

"It's doable to keep the school open, but with great sacrifice and expense," said J. Keith Scroggins, the system's chief operating officer.

Scroggins, who attended Pimlico Middle in the late 1960s, said it is always hard to close a school, in part because residents have fond memories of childhood years spent in classrooms and halls.

One such person is Devin Cook, a current eighth-grader.

"I don't want the school to close because of all the friendships that I've built with people over the last three years," he said, before dashing to catch a bus. "I'd be sad."

Sun reporter Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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