But Hopkins is seeking to engineer the revival of a huge swath of East Baltimore through an 88-acre redevelopment project that includes taking over a struggling public school. It is unusual for an elite university to dive so deeply into urban education and redevelopment at the same time.
The elementary and middle school, which Hopkins operates and subsidizes, is scheduled to move from its temporary neighborhood location into a nearby, newly constructed campus this year a couple blocks from the medical complex, where it will reboot under the university’s brand name.
The hope here is that the Henderson-Hopkins School will lure working-class families to a place that once drove them away. The university has an inherent self-interest: Safety and prosperity on its borders will make the medical campus more attractive for students and faculty.
“They knew that a school was one of the things this neighborhood needs,” said Betty Carlos, 66, whose daughter Gift is in third grade at the school and grandson Kyrin is in fourth grade. “You can’t ask people to move into these $200,000 houses and not have a good school.”
Carlos, a lifelong resident of East Baltimore, said she was angry when forced out of her home a few years ago to make way for the redevelopment, which has been underway now for a decade. That friction still echoes here from time to time when skeptics ask exactly how much the project has helped the community. Officials say that they have tracked and aided hundreds of displaced families and that the school will give their children enrollment priority.
Carlos said she and her daughter Michelle, a cook at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, are thinking of buying a house in the redevelopment zone. She said Hopkins won’t let the school fail. “They’ll do everything they can to not be shamed.”
For generations, colleges have worked with public schools to facilitate teacher training and education research. But in recent times, relatively few major universities have invested their brand in a modern urban school to the extent Hopkins has. Obstacles to success are high, and the task can be hard to square with a university’s mission.
The University of Pennsylvania gave its name and financial support to an acclaimed public school known as Penn Alexander that in the past decade has helped rejuvenate west Philadelphia. Stanford University oversees a charter high school in East Palo Alto, Calif., but was forced to shut down a companion elementary school in 2010 amid debate about its performance.
“It’s risky,” acknowledged Susan H. Fuhrman, president of Teachers College at Columbia University, which recently put its name on a New York public school. “With heightened accountability, you are on the line for student achievement. But if every university in an urban setting did this, it would be a huge boost. We’re neighbors, and we have an obligation.”