Eight years ago, then Baltimore City Schools Superintendent Dr. Andres Alonso brought independent school leaders together to discuss education in Baltimore City. He asked them to suggest ways to improve the city’s school system. Their solution: start a new charter school for girls that would serve a larger percentage of the population and live on beyond their administrations. The suggestion resulted in the creation of the Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School in Govans.
Roland Park Country and Bryn Mawr Schools, notable independent K – Grade 12 girls’ schools in Baltimore, were the first two schools involved in the endeavor. RPCS helped by applying for the school’s initial charter, which was approved in 2013. In August 2015, Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School, named after a Baltimore civil rights activist who helped open the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, opened its doors to 78 fifth and sixth graders. This fall, enrollment increased to 173 girls. By year five, LMCJCS Executive Director Laurel Freedman anticipates the school will grow to 312 girls in grades five through eight.
Lillie May Carroll Jackson distinguishes itself in several ways. As an all-girls middle school, teachers focus on the physical, emotional and intellectual growth unique to 10-14-year-old girls. The decision to teach girls-only is based on research from the National Coalition of Girls Schools that suggests an all-girls environment promotes high cognitive achievement, higher self-esteem, and higher internal controls. With this in mind, the school provides a rigorous academic environment to empower girls and inspire them to serve as mentors for one another.
Lillie May Carroll Jackson is also an Expeditionary Learning School. Freedman explains that the EL model “helps to give a teaching vocabulary in an urban setting.” Students learn through a hands-on approach, ensuring a deeper level of understanding and a longer lasting impression. As the educational arm of Outward Bound, EL challenges students to engage in self-reflection, stretch themselves and self-advocate.
As a charter school, Lillie May Carroll Jackson admits students by lottery. Prospective students must complete an application and show proof of city residency. The lottery is held in February. The first year, the accepted pool included girls from 20 different zip codes and 37 different Baltimore City elementary schools.
Despite the expected growing pains that come with the initial years of starting a school, the school has been going strong. Freedman credits its initial success to the “amazingly committed” staff, families, and mentors, all of whom buy-in to Lillie May Carroll Jackson’s unique mission. Teachers have been recruited from other Baltimore City Schools, programs like Teach for America, and through connections with network schools like Bryn Mawr and Roland Park. In fact, both schools have recent alums on the staff of the charter school, further strengthening the connection between the sister schools. Similarly, Lillie May Carroll Jackson’s Principal, Damia Thomas, is an alum of Teach for America with over twenty years of experience. Most recently, Thomas served as the principal of Harford Heights Elementary, a Baltimore City school.
Freedman feels Thomas is the perfect person to fill the role of the school’s first principal. “She is a dynamic, passionate leader who has high expectations of her students,” she says and adds that as the mother of a daughter who attends Maryvale Prep, Thomas is a believer in single-sex education.
While Lillie May Carroll Jackson espouses a rigorous curriculum for its girls, character building is a big part of the school’s and the EL mission. The girls live the six habits of mind or “HOME” (habit of mind expectations). For them, this means active citizenship through perseverance, collaboration, inquiry, integrity, and responsibility. These ideas are infused into every part of the curriculum and emphasized in the student’s advisory meetings. Girls are placed into advisory “crews” which draw on the notion that girls at Lillie May Jackson Carroll are not passive passengers but active “crewmembers” in their education.
The school also offers a free after-school program from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. each day during which they can get homework assistance and participate in enrichment programs in drama, yoga, and STEM. Half of the student body stays for the full program which includes dinner.
Lillie May Jackson Carroll’s comprehensive program and demanding academics strive to prepare girls for access to the highest achieving high schools in Baltimore. This would not be possible without a strong collaboration between home and school. Freedman emphasizes that families who are truly invested in the education of their daughters pursue entry to the school and, as a result, recognize the lasting benefits of the education it provides, both during the critical middle school years and beyond. By this, in a very short time, Lillie May Carroll Jackson has begun to realize the mission set forth by the administrators who conceived of it.