When David Andrews became dean of The Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education in late 2010, he and his wife, Marti, packed up their stuff and moved from a 15-acre horse farm in Ohio to Baltimore. Initially, they settled in a rented Guilford manse while they looked for a full-time place. They considered buying in Guilford or other neighborhoods that could replicate the peace and quaintness they had enjoyed in Ohio, but, instead, they decided to buy and renovate adjoining vacant row homes in East Baltimore. Yes, that East Baltimore.
“To move from Guilford to East Baltimore might be a first!” Andrews chuckles as he sits in the newly furnished living room of the 1890s house he, Marti, and their Weimaraner, Lola, finally moved into in March.
Though the move is unusual (a Hopkins board member once asked, “Where’s your real house?”), the decision makes more sense in light of Andrews’s position at the School of Education, which, through an agreement with city and school officials, now oversees the East Baltimore Community School, the first such undertaking in the graduate school’s 100-plus-year history.
“Part of the reason I came [to Baltimore] was because of this project in East Baltimore,” explains Andrews, who, prior to this, was the founding dean of The Ohio State University’s College of Education and Human Ecology. “We had done a similar project in Columbus, OH, in a pretty tough neighborhood. Well, I thought it was tough. Everything’s relative,” he notes wryly.
Andrews is tasked with making sure the new, state-of-the-art school—on which ground was broken only last month—is ready to open by fall of 2013.
“It’s a tight timeline,” he acknowledges, in his soft, native Floridian drawl, “because when opening a school, if you’ve missed it by a month, you’ve missed it by a year.”
A temporary facility is up and running already, but, as the dean is the first to admit, the new school will be more than just a learning facility; it will be a civic hub for a community long in need of an operational headquarters.
In addition to grades K-8, there will be day care, a family-support center, health programming and screenings, and a library boasting resources from Hopkins, the Pratt, and Baltimore City Public Schools.
“It’s to demonstrate what schools of the future should look like if we’re really going to make them community schools,” Andrews says. Another key component to creating this “school of the future” is recruiting a mixed-income student body, something Andrews was stunned to find is so rare in Baltimore.
“Go to New York, and they’ve got schools with kids that are on free and reduced lunch and kids that aren’t, and nobody thinks anything of it. But in Baltimore, it’s pretty unique.”
Perhaps, 10 years from now, speculates Marti, a nutritionist at Hopkins’s School of Nursing, East Baltimore will be like another Fells Point. But, for right now, they are blazing a new trail, attending services at the predominantly African-American Saint Wenceslaus Catholic Church, sharing gardening tips with neighbors in the community garden, and figuring out the rest as they go along.
“Everyone’s so excited the school is going in,” Marti says, noting that the enthusiasm has made introductions easier.
For his part, Andrews is proud of his recent promotion from “baby” to “baby doll” in neighborhood parlance. “I’m moving up in the eyes of the neighbors,” he says.
Not that there haven’t been a few awkward moments here and there.
Security has increased since they arrived.
“You know, if something happens to us, that’s going to slow this down a whole lot,” Andrews says matter-of-factly.
Mostly, though, the Andrewses are rubbing up against the oft-discussed gap between the haves and the have-nots.
“I have no car,” Andrews explains, “so I take the bus to [my office at] Homewood and, literally, every day, somebody asks me if I know of any job opportunities.”
They’ve taken to stocking extra food and water to give to hungry passersby, but draw the line at money.
And the neighbors look out for them, too.
“We were here about three days, and about 9 o’clock, we hear the doorbell ring,” Andrews recalls, “So Marti goes down and looks, and it’s three young African-American males that don’t look too bad, but not too good. We don’t have a chain on the door. We’re like, ‘Do you open the door? Do you not?’ and they kept knocking. I said, ‘Let’s wait.’ So, they left. Then, they came back and started again, and they had our neighbor, Tim, with them. So Marti recognized him and felt so bad. It turned out, I had left my keys in the door. These kids had been walking by and were trying to tell me, but I was afraid to open the door, which made me feel really bad. It made me think, ‘Why did I do that?’ So, I’ve learned a lot.”