The Green Street Academy story is a testament to what’s possible when a dream held by a few becomes a powerful opportunity shared by the many.

THE BIG IDEA

While serving as board members of the Center for Urban Families, GSA co-founders Larry Rivitz and David Warnock learned from residents in West Baltimore that their children lacked access to the educational resources they needed to prepare them for a rapidly changing job market. In their subsequent research, they identified a significant citywide gap between the college and career preparation programming available in Baltimore City’s high schools and the growth of jobs in the city for which its graduates were unprepared.

To address that gap, Larry and David imagined a new kind of public middle-high school in Baltimore City that would focus on 21st century career education, including the creation of a world-class academic facility that would enable city students to achieve their full potential and graduate with the tools they would need for career success. At the same time, they wanted to develop a community anchor, much like the Center for Urban Families, that could create career opportunities for the families of the school’s students and the wider community in West Baltimore.

“Any of our students can achieve anything, if we stand by them.” – U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings at Green Street Academy’s North Hilton Street Grand Opening, Sept. 2015.

HOW TO
START A PUBLIC
CHARTER SCHOOL

In 2009, Larry and David began working with Baltimore City Public Schools to lay out the process that would make the school a reality. They first established a non-profit organization that would serve as the school’s operator. They then joined the superintendent’s school reform initiative by creating a“transformation school” for grades 6-12. Soon after they took over a failed West Baltimore Middle School and absorbed their remaining students while recruiting new ones. The mission of the school was to prepare middle and high school students in Baltimore City for college and careers in the 21st century economy.

To drive the plan, celebrated educator Ed Cozzolino was identified for the role of founding principal. During his tenure at Green Street Academy, Ed established the academic foundation and close-knit culture that still exists today. Prior to opening, Ed selectively recruited his teaching staff, oversaw the many renovations required before welcoming new students, and defined the curriculum and academic standards that have become the hallmark of GSA.

At the school’s opening in September, 2010, over 200 students enrolled in classes taught by veteran teachers along with newly certified staff members from Teach for America and Baltimore City Teaching Residency. In 2012, Ed Cozzolino retired, and Crystal Harden-Lindsey took over to continue the work of scaling the school and leading the staff and students to excellence. By 2014, the number of students had grown to 450, and the school building was stressed to accommodate many more.

GROWING UP
AND GROWING OUT

From its inception, Green Street Academy’s founders were determined to create one of Baltimore City’s premier learning institutions. In order to prepare students for a world rapidly adapting to and relying upon technology and practices related to sustainability, the school concentrated on creating academic excellence as well as planning future career pathways for their students. Those pathways included experiential learning, certifications, and internships in construction design and management, conservation and urban agriculture, healthcare, advanced technology, and entrepreneurship, all supported by community partners, like Constellation Exelon, BGE, United Way, U.S. Department of Agriculture, University of Maryland Medical System, and Woodberry Kitchen.

At the same time, GSA also built a positive school culture, supporting underperforming students, mentoring faculty, and building operating systems and community support.

As enrollment exceeded 450 students, it became apparent that the original school location was insufficient in both size and infrastructure to allow GSA to realize its full vision of integrating student learning and community impact. Only by providing state-of-the-art technology and science labs, expanded academic and health services, green space for environmental studies, athletics, and adult workforce training could GSA reach its potential. It also became apparent that GSA would need the financial and programmatic flexibility of charter school status, rather than remain as a more traditionally operated public school, to achieve its ultimate mission.

Green Street Academy began to seek a new home and to create a more independent operating structure.

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