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Wednesday
May112011

School Days: Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School

Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School
100 East Heath Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

In our series, School Days, downtown families share their experiences sending their children to Baltimore City Public Schools. Our hope is that this series can become a resource for downtown parents making important decisions about their children's education.

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What’s your name and what neighborhood does your family live in? We are the Leszczynski’s, Mary, John, and Ian (age 8), and we have lived in Federal Hill for six years.

What grade is your child in at TJEMS? Ian is in Ms. Oliver’s second grade class at TJ, and has been at the school for two years. He had previously attended the Catholic Community School until it closed its doors in 2007. At that point, like many other Federal Hill families, we were faced with having to reexamine the school selection process. While John and I had initially decided on providing Ian with a catholic education, the viable selections were not close to home. For us, part of city living is participating in your immediate neighborhood, and we wanted Ian to attend school within his community. When we toured Thomas Johnson, we immediately felt a sense of welcoming energy. Our tour guide was none other than “Mr. D,” the school’s principal, and was very willing to answer all of our (sometimes tough) questions. In my mind, test scores are not the end all- be all, but TJ’s are among the highest in the district. Those scores, combined with the programs, proximity, and caring staff, helped us to decide to give it a year.

We’re back for year two, and it keeps getting better. Even with the tough budget situation, TJ added a full time music teacher this year, test scores are even better, and has been recognized as a MSDE “Green School.” And Ian is learning and being challenged, but most of all, he is happy.

Is TJEMS a zoned or city-wide lottery? Thomas Johnson Elementary Middle School is a zoned school, but accepts students from out of zone. 

What is your child’s favorite and least favorite part of their school day? Ian loves technology and music. Honestly, he is very easy going, and I can’t really name his least favorite part of the day, but my guess is when he gets his behavior tracker color moved for what he describes as “chitter-chatting” with his friends during class.

In what areas do you believe your school is excelling? Thomas Johnson has five “specials” each week that Ian participates in, library, technology, gym, music, and art. Depending on the grade level, TJ also offers the following specials: Spanish, band, orchestra, drama, advanced computer technology, health, and physical education.  The 100-Book Challenge taps into Ian’s competitive side, while instilling a love of reading. There are also two options for after school care, one run by Balt. City Parks & Recs, and Fitness, Fun, & Games. TJ offers a number of extracurricular activities including student government, National Academic League (NAL), ceramics club, chess team, yoga, stock market club, aerobics, basketball, recycling club, Reading Academy, and the after school Arts Enrichment Academy! There is an extremely strong PTO who is active in both fundraising and providing activities for both the school and community-at-large to enjoy.

Are there any unique offerings at your school that set it apart? TJ has partnered with Towson University, and has benefited from not only extra staff in the classrooms, but the passion and energy of students just about to embark on their careers in education. Ian has had Towson students in both of his years at TJ, and their creativity and exposure to, as well as a willingness to try new learning methods, have greatly enhanced his classroom experience.

What are some of the challenges your school faces? Aside from needing a bigger budget? One of our biggest concerns with TJ was the location in relation to the drug activity in our neighborhood. The school is very proactive when it comes to the student’s safety, visitors must be buzzed in from the office and must register at the main office.  The staff is very firm about appropriate behavior from both students and caregivers at arrival and dismissal times.

What are your hopes for your school moving forward? My hope is that Thomas Johnson can secure funds to expand on “the extras,” more opportunities for Ian to expand his knowledge in non-traditional ways, more art, music, gym, and a language teacher, to take advantage of this time when young brains pick up foreign languages easier. Or if the budget doesn’t allow it, provide a venue and help to facilitate more after school “extras” at a reasonable cost, that work with the after care programs in place. As a parent who works outside the home, one of the hardest challenges I face is logistics, and having the ability to have Ian participate in the TJ Chess Team for part of an afternoon, and then trust that he is safely taken to after care, is a great benefit from the school.

How should parents contact Thomas Johnson if they have questions? Phone :(410) 396-1575; Principal: James Dendinger; Assistant Principal: Kelly Rietschel

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The more schools we are able to profile in our School Days series, the better this resource can become for local parents. If you would like to contribute to the School Days series, we would love to have you! Please contact us!

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