Catholic, charter schools can cooperate — and do

March 22, 2011

Erica Green's recent article, "Charters emerge as threat to Catholic schools" (March 16), describes the competition between Catholic and charter schools for students. This competition certainly exists. But it is not the entirety of the relationship, at least not in one section of the city.

In Northeast Baltimore, not too far south of where the vacant St. Anthony's school building mentioned in the article sits, another Catholic school is one of three outstanding schools — one parochial, one traditional neighborhood public and one public charter school — participating in partnership with a local community development organization to enhance educational opportunities for all families in the neighborhood.

St. Francis of Assisi School, Hamilton Elementary Middle School and City Neighbors Charter School are working with Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville to promote all of the great education options that families in Northeast Baltimore have available to them. Families — Catholic and non-Catholic — seeking a values-based education focused on the whole child in a small school environment can choose St. Francis. Looking for a traditional, academically rigorous, public education with strong science and art programs? Hamilton boasts the Ingenuity Project and a growing community gardening program. What about an arts-integrated, Reggio Emilia-inspired environment for your little ones to grow? City Neighbors is a leader in progressive education in Baltimore City. These three schools have even been co-marketing on the web and in print.

But their partnership is not just about promoting their individual assets — it's about sharing their successes to strengthen education for all kids. Nothing drove this point home to me more than when I walked into City Neighbors on a recent Saturday morning for a progressive education summit, only to be greeted by the principal of St. Francis of Assisi at the registration desk.

The schools have been sharing professional development opportunities, working together to organize the summit that attracted hundreds of educators from across the region and providing opportunities to one another's students, such as the sports programs and summer drama camp at St. Francis that serve students from Hamilton and City Neighbors. There are also exciting conversations going on around developing innovative solutions to the common challenges that all three schools face, such as aging facilities or board development and parent engagement.

With funding from the Goldseker Foundation and support from our partners at Healthy Neighborhoods and the Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, this innovative partnership in Northeast Baltimore is demonstrating how schools and neighborhoods can work together for mutual benefit while creating a great community to live and raise children. And sometimes, there is a little healthy competition, too.

Laurie M. Latuda, Baltimore

The writer is the program officer for the Goldseker Foundation.

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