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.
What's your name and what neighborhood does your family live in?
South Federal Hill/Riverside area
What are your children's names and ages?
Kieran, 5 and Amelia, 1
What grade are your children in at Thomas Johnson Elementary/Middle School? How long have they been attending?
Kieran will be entering Kindergarten next year and went to the Pre-K program last year at TJEMS.
Where is Thomas Johnson located?
100 East Heath Street, right across from Riverside Park.
Is TJEMS a zoned or citywide lottery?
It’s a zoned school, but does accept out-of-zone applicants.
Tell us a bit about your process in choosing a school for your children. Did you consider other schools? How did you settle on Thomas Johnson?
Back when I was pregnant, my husband (Ken) and I discussed public versus private schooling. Ken was very pro-private school, I wanted a public school. Given our perception of public schools in the city, we put our house on the market for a while thinking we’d move to the county (and a better school district). That was right when the market tanked so – back to the drawing board.
Kieran was already attending a full-time daycare program in the county by my office and we knew he could be there for another year before he went into Kindergarten. As the time grew closer we started looking at our options and I found many parents in the area we knew who sent their kids to TJEMS (which was our zoned school), after some additional research I saw TJEMS ranked top 10 (test scores) in the state. That factor convinced Ken to check it out. We attended an open house.
That did it. We didn’t even look anywhere else. The staff so obviously cared about the school and the students, the kids seemed to genuinely be having fun in classes. So, we signed him up.
What is your child's favorite and least favorite part of their school day?
Kieran really likes to sing, dance and move. Or be on the computer. He was not a fan of being quiet so naptime was his least favorite part of Pre-K.
In what areas do you believe your school is excelling?
Like I said, the teachers and staff all care a great deal about the school and are actively engaged in ways to improve things. I love that they walk to the library periodically and that they had some great field trips. In addition, when Kieran had some initial problems adjusting, his teacher did not hesitate a moment in developing an individual curriculum for him tailored to eliminate his bordem and engage him more.
Are there any unique offerings at your school that set it apart?
Beyond the “three Rs”, kids get a lot of additional exposure to art, Spanish, and technology. And, have I mentioned the fact that the teachers care? Frankly, I’m not sure how this may compare to other schools, but I have witnessed teacher burnout – I don’t see it at TJEMS.
What are some of the challenges your school faces?
As with any public school (especially one in Baltimore), funding is always an issue. The age of the building concerns me – it was built in a time when we thought that shutting out natural light (reducing distractions) was more conducive to focus and studying. Though there are a few projects to improve the building (a new library is coming in the fall), I would like to see a proposal for a new building or for retrofitting this one with larger windows, greener systems, etc.
There is also the issue of parent engagement. Thomas Johnson has some amazing involved parents, but there can always be more. PTO meetings are very sparsely attended (though I am just as guilty of skipping meetings this past year – this coming year I will do better).
Finally, Thomas Johnson is a secret that’s not-so-secret anymore. This may be less of a challenge and more of an opportunity for the area and the school, but knowing that TJEMS is becoming a top choice for parents throughout the city is both a point of pride and something to watch.
What are your hopes for your school moving forward?
I really want to see TJEMS grow as a shining star within the city. Living here can be challenging (hello 20-something neighbors-with-no-kids, do you really have to scream on your rooftop deck on a Wednesday night?), but it is also rewarding. Baltimore has the small-town feel that can be missing in the burbs. Neighbors know one another, look out for one another and the family group in Federal Hill is active and helpful. With parents, teachers and staff working together TJEMS is and will continue be the exception to the rule of Baltimore City schools.
If Parents have questions about Thomas Johnson, who should they contact?
Kelly Rietchel is the assistant principal, she is usually the first point of contact.