Building Centers for Childhood Education in East Baltimore

About This Project

(In cross-sector work,) you need to interact with a lot of different people who may not share your same motivations or enthusiasm. It can take many years to build trusting, genuinely reciprocal, professional relationships. Respond to every e-mail, return every call, make time for that informational interview, make no distinction between CEO and clerk.— Andy Frank, Special Advisor to the President on Economic Development, Johns Hopkins University

By the early 2000s, East Baltimore faced many challenges, including the lack of adequate educational resources including a library or safe public spaces. Only 24 percent of adults in the community could read above a third grade level and opportunities for economic development were limited. In 2003, the City of Baltimore created a development corporation, East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI), which would “revitalize, re-energize and rebuild the East Baltimore neighborhood.” EBDI contracted with developers to build-out the master plan and in 2010, with community input, set about opening a new school. After two years of struggles with performance and behavior, EBDI leadership concluded that EBDI was not equipped to own and operate a school. With strong backing from Johns Hopkins, EBDI decided to unite a range of partners to transform the school into an innovative community resource. Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels asked Andy Frank, his Special Adviser on Economic Development, to convene the stakeholders (EBDI, JHU, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, the community and the city) to begin planning for a permanent elementary/middle school: Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School and the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Early Childhood Center. Henderson-Hopkins, as the school is called, is the first public school building built in East Baltimore in more than 20 years.

Andy is Johns Hopkins University’s Special Adviser to the President on Economic Development. He is Secretary of the East Baltimore Community School, Inc. (EBCS), the owner of Henderson-Hopkins, and represented the board throughout the design and construction process. Andy was invited to the Johns Hopkins President’s office after serving as Baltimore’s First Deputy Mayor for neighborhoods and economic development. He took on shared project management responsibilities as Hopkins’ representative and says he served to “raise expectations” of what could ultimately be accomplished. When asked about his path up this point, Andy described his career as the continual process, no matter what it took, of “getting to Yes.”

Intellectual Thread

Andy always wanted to work in urban economic development. He had a passion for Baltimore, even as a child, and earned an internship in the City of Baltimore’s Department of Planning when he was just 13 years old. In college, Andy designed his own major in Urban Studies and Urban Economics with the intention of working for the City of Baltimore. He then pursued a master’s degree in City and Regional Planning, with a concentration in affordable housing development. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Andy worked in Baltimore’s planning department, at the not-for-profit Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), and in the mayor’s office – always with an emphasis on planning and developing a better Baltimore.

Transferable Skills

As a master’s student in urban planning, Andy learned how to develop pro formas and budgets and to analyze deals and transactions from a public sector perspective, technical aspects of city planning which were critical to making projects like Henderson-Hopkins happen. When Andy was first hired at BDC, his boss asked if he knew how to “do deals.” He quickly learned that successful city development meant identifying unmet needs – often some gap that was holding back the private sector – and creatively making deals: mobilizing resources to meet those needs. Andy cites the skills garnered in 10 years working at BDC as preparation for the role he plays today in bringing city government, non-profit universities and foundations, and private contractors together around Henderson-Hopkins and the larger EBDI effort. Furthermore, he described that technical skills helped him stand up to bureaucratic inertia. When someone says that something cannot be done, Andy’s deep knowledge of the development process helps him know if it’s actually possible, and when and how to push back.

Contextual Intelligence

Andy’s experience across sectors helped him to bridge the differing motivations of partners working to make Henderson-Hopkins a reality. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, Andy worked on economic development in Baltimore for 15 years, including service in City Hall. Before joining the Mayor’s Office, he served as the executive vice president to the Baltimore Development Corporation, where his work included urban revitalization and redevelopment. Andy also helped found three nonprofit organizations dedicated to livability, historical preservation, and tourism in Baltimore. Andy likewise has experience in the private sector, working for an affordable housing development firm. His experiences across three sectors, all devoted to Baltimore’s development and prosperity, set the stage for Andy’s invitation to lead Johns Hopkins engagement with EBDI and Henderson-Hopkins.

Integrated Networks

Andy relied on relationships that he had built over the course of his career in Baltimore to make Henderson-Hopkins a reality. “A friend of mine used to say she had ‘high friends in low places.’” “Baltimore is a small town. In real estate development, you are interacting with virtually the same people for every project,” Andy said. He emphasizes that the ability to develop mutual respect and “good, strong working and trusting relationships with people at all levels,” and across sectors, as a factor for success. “People are more likely to call you back if you called them back three years ago and helped solve a problem.”

Share a vision of success

Coming from a background in economic development, Andy saw the success of the school as instrumental and critical to the success of the mixed-income neighborhood EBDI and partners were trying to build. He admits that other partners had different measures of success, more directly related to educational outcomes. But the key was that the various priorities for success were never mutually exclusive. Whether individual partners came to the table for academic or economic development purposes, the success of student learning was the critical factor for everyone’s definition of the success of the project. The goal of the school is to “pursue the most contemporary, effective approaches to meeting the needs of students, their families, and the community.” Through a holistic approach to education, including physical and social development as well as academic achievement, the school’s success was a rallying point for partners from each sector.

Establish a governance structure

Henderson-Hopkins is a contract school of the Baltimore City Public School system. It is owned by East Baltimore Community School, Inc, and operated by the Johns Hopkins University School of Education (SOE), in partnership with Morgan State University’s School of Education and Urban Studies. The JHU School of Education runs the day-to-day operation of the school, while Morgan organizes the partnership. Patricia Welch, Dean of the School of Education at Morgan State University, serves as the chairperson for Henderson-Hopkins Board of Directors. The Board was responsible for planning the construction and initial operations of the school. The Board is made up of key stakeholders on the project, including school parents, elected officials, and members of the partner organizations. When the school was being built, the Board and the Johns Hopkins School of Education set benchmarks and metrics for the school’s day-to-day operations. In the design and construction process, Andy represented the Board, working collaboratively with representatives from Johns Hopkins School of Education, the architect Roger Marvel, and a team from the contractor, Whiting Turner. As a representative of EBDI, Andy had some decision-making power, but used this structure facilitated a balance of efficiency and collaborative input. Andy reported that input from experts – often in the form of presentations to the board on the question at hand – was crucial to reaching consensus and making collaborative decisions.

Recruit a powerful sponsor or champion

Johns Hopkins President Ron Daniels saw the Henderson-Hopkins elementary school as an opportunity for the University to serve Baltimore, and he made several public commitments to do just that. While Johns Hopkins has been deeply involved in several aspects of the EBDI’s $1.8 billion revitalization project, President Daniels has been especially supportive of the school, making it a “core priority” for the university. His championship of the school and its community resources, such as the forthcoming East Baltimore Historical Library, helped to develop community buy-in for the project as well.

Establish transparency of viewpoints

A major challenge for the project was managing costs, as there were conflicting opinions on how to do so. Andy acknowledged that natural tensions arose between stakeholders who approached the project from different perspectives – such as the architect or JHU SOE, the school’s operator – and those that worked from a cost-management perspective, such as the school’s owner, EBDI. But these conflicts were resolved by openly discussing each stakeholder’s goals and perspectives, and creating the opportunity to reach consensus on a budget. That process included making information about available financial resources transparent and highlighting the financial demands that might put the project in the red. Furthermore, as the process unfolded, the partners realized that each sector had been operating with partial information. Andy took responsibility for collecting all of the information and facilitating decision-making around what could be funded, “with a lot of advice,” he said. This included weekly presentations from a construction manager who collected details on any outstanding cost and funding issues. Once all of the partners collaboratively agreed on financial parameters, resolving conflicts around the allocation of resources became much easier.

Henderson-Hopkins now serves 504 students in grades K-7. The 7-acre campus will eventually serve 567 in the elementary school and 180 students in the early-childhood center. Maximum class size is 23 students, and the K-8 curriculum is based on the Success For All model – innovative work from the Johns Hopkins School of Education (SOE), giving students access to the latest developments in pedagogy. When the Johns Hopkins SOE became the operator of the original EBDI school, there was a significant literacy challenge – only 39 percent of students were proficient in reading and writing for their grade level. Now, 67 percent of students are proficient and that rate is improving. As the JHU SOE works to uplift educational performance, the Board is in the process of making the shared spaces available to the East Baltimore Community.

  • The Early Childhood Center will open in the Fall of 2014. Henderson-Hopkins sees early childhood preparation as critical to success in K-8 education and then high school and college.
  • The campus and the curriculum at Henderson-Hopkins are designed to promote every child’s holistic education; thus the campus facilities give students ample access to outdoor space and natural light, and the integration of neighborhood resources helps students and families maintain strong connections to the community.
  • The project aspires to be a mixed-income facility – bringing families from different socioeconomic experiences together, which the JHU SOE Chief of Operations Annette Anderson called “an untested hypothesis.” As such, the operational partners continue to monitor their success in serving the diverse population of families and community members that use the campus and its facilities and work to engage with East Baltimore in identifying and meeting needs.