How does a school, in an area saturated with choices both public and private, rise above persistent rumors and misconceptions?
Pikesville Middle School advocates are hoping the answer lies with a new dynamic principal, a newly formed schools coalition and support from CHAI.
CHAI decided to expand outreach to Pikesville, taking a cue from its successful involvement with schools in Northwest Baltimore for many years, according to executive director Mitchell Posner, because “strong schools are a core element of a strong community.”
“Schools are the hub and the heartbeat of a community,” said Michelle Shaivitz, director of school and community partnerships at CHAI. “We are trying to engage in community conversations about diversity and equity. We’re trying to have a continuation of academic success for the students.”
CHAI is in the early stages of collaborating with Pikesville school principals, community leaders and other stakeholders to identify and secure resources, in what CHAI envisions will be a long-term commitment. Coalition.
The announcement of CHAI’s involvement was music to the ears of Eddie Matz.
Dr. Whitney and Eddie Matz have three children in Pikesville schools. Two of their children attend Summit Park Elementary School and their oldest, Ben, is in sixth grade at Pikesville Middle. Eddie is, in his own words, “a huge proponent of the public schools.” He grew up in Randallstown, graduated from Randallstown High School and estimates that “99 percent” of the kids he grew up with attended the public schools. It was a no-brainer that his children would also attend public school.
Whitney, on the other hand, had a few reservations. She had heard rumors about fights, about the alleged over-rigor of the gifted and talented classes, of not enough rigor in the non-GT classes.
“We had many discussions about what we were going to do,” said Whitney. “We talked to our son about it and he was very interested in Pikesville because all his friends were going.”
So far it has worked out. Whitney and Ben even spoke at a CHAI-sponsored question and answer session for potential PMS families hosted at the Parke at Mount Washington in mid-December.
“Ben is very happy. He is extremely academically challenged. Eddie and I have absolutely no concerns about Ben’s safety at school,” said Whitney. “I have a lot of confidence in the teachers. They are a big reason why it has been a success for our family.”
The Matzes, along with other parents, believe that the negative rumors surrounding Pikesville Middle are a byproduct of ignorance as to what is really going on in the halls of the school. Jeff Jerome, leader of the Pikesville Schools Coalition and former Pikesville High School PTSA president, concurs.
“When my son was going to school, the feeling in the community was that Pikesville Middle school may have had some behavioral issues,” he said. “It was sort of an unsaid thing…” Now, Jerome is working with the coalition to inform the community about school realities and “keep the school system in the area strong.”
“The coalition gives all these [stakeholders] a voice to give us more leverage than we would have as individual groups,” he added.
“People think these schools are different because there is diversity. I think that they are better because of it,” Jen Rosen, president of the PTA at Summit Park ES, said via email. “The Pikesville schools are a reflection of the society we live in, there are children from all walks of life learning and socializing together. The teachers are really great at PMS and with Diane Richmond in charge, disciplinary issues will be nipped in the bud as quickly as possible.”
Despite these assurances, parents still struggle with the public versus private school question.
Michael Mann is frequently approached by parents for advice. He has a unique perspective because his eldest child is in seventh grade at The Park School of Baltimore, while his two youngest attend PMS and Fort Garrison.
“We try to walk [parents] through the same thought process we went through,” said Mann. “[We] explain our experiences with the Park school and the public school system. Both offer distinct advantages.” And, he added, he tells parents not to start from a place of thinking of public schools are “second best.”
“There’s not necessarily a drop-off in quality in public or private. It’s just different. It’s not orders of magnitude different and each has a lot to recommend the choice.”
Julie Jacobstein likewise has a foot in both worlds. Her family has a third grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School, a sixth grade student at PMS and an eighth grade student at McDonogh School. When her middle son was readying for middle school, a natural transition point, he wanted to partake in the Gateway to Technology — a STEM program — at PMS.
Jacobstein, who attended Fort Garrison Elementary School as a child but did not attend PMS, admits to being a bit wary, but was blown away by the teachers and principal at the back to school night.
“In Baltimore [there] are so many choices and so many options. It’s all about what’s best for your kid,” said Jacbostein, even if having three kids in three different schools might make life more hectic for parents. “It would be really easy to have them all in the same place and have the same schedule, but they are all really where they need to be.”
The PMS parents were unanimous in their support of Principal Richmond, who came to PMS this year after 12 years at Summit Park ES. She is careful not to comment on the private versus public school question, calling it a personal choice that has long been a topic of conversation in the community, nor on the rumors that have plagued PMS.
“I can’t tell you where these misperceptions come from. I do know that Pikesville Middle School is an outstanding program because of the caliber of teachers that we have here.”
Adding, “I couldn’t be more proud of this school and the teachers here, the students here and the parents that have gotten involved. It’s a wonderful, warm community.”