Published Online: March 21, 2006
Published in Print: March 22, 2006, as Public Boarding School Seeking to Expand

Public Boarding School Seeking to Expand

SEED School’s founders tout record of sending students on to college.

The founders of the nation’s only public boarding school are pushing efforts in several states to replicate their program, which takes poor students out of unstable homes and puts them in a rigorous, round-the-clock college-preparatory setting.

The SEED Foundation, a nonprofit organization that opened the 320-student School for Educational Evolution and Development, or SEED School, in the District of Columbia eight years ago, wants to open a second school in Maryland.

To that end, SEED officials are seeking approval from Maryland lawmakers and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, to create a state-financed boarding school that their group would run. The foundation would raise millions of dollars in private money to build the school, but is asking the state legislature to support its annual operations, which would cost $32,000 to $35,000 per student.

The school, if approved, likely would be built in Baltimore, but would be open to students from around Maryland, said Eric Adler, a founder and the managing director of the SEED Foundation. Students would be selected through a lottery system, as they are for the school in Washington.

The foundation is also eyeing, among other sites, two cities in California, and it has plans for a second Washington campus.

Political support for a new SEED school in Maryland has been largely bipartisan—Democrats and Republicans are sponsoring the bill in the legislature and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is a strong supporter—but Mr. Adler said the expense of running a boarding school is still daunting to some public officials.

Last year, the foundation failed to get support from some Maryland Democrats, who were opposed to opening a SEED school as a charter school, as the Washington school is. In the current proposal, the school would be overseen by the state education department, and students attending the school would still be included in the enrollment counts of their home districts for state funding purposes, according to a fiscal analysis by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

“The cost of operating a boarding school is triple that of a regular public school,” Mr. Adler said in an interview this month. “We must make a very strong case that even though it’s expensive, it is economically far more productive than the costs of social services and, frankly, incarceration.

“We are worth the cost,” he said.

Going to College

Mr. Adler cites the 35 students who have graduated from the SEED School in Washington as proof. “They’ve all gone to college,” he said. “Every single one.”

Results like those brought the endorsement of the Maryland Department of Education.

“It’s the type of innovation that makes sense in Baltimore city,” said William Reinhard, a spokesman for the department. “The school has gotten some good early notices in Washington, and we’d like to see the same innovations brought to students here.”

The SEED Foundation also wants to open schools in Los Angeles and Oakland. Two Los Angeles-area Democrats have introduced a bill in the California Assembly that is similar to the legislation in Maryland. The California bill could get its first hearing later this month.

Discussions are also under way with officials in Georgia and Wisconsin, Mr. Adler said.

The coed SEED School in Washington, which serves students in grades 7-12, has drawn most of its students from the neighborhood in the city’s southeast section where the school was built. Nearly all of them are African-American.

Students live in two dormitories—girls in one, boys in the other—and take seven classes a day. At night, they study under the supervision of school staff members who tutor them and help with homework.

Typically, Mr. Adler said, students who arrive at SEED are two or three grades behind in mathematics and reading. Many of them live in homes with adults other than their parents, or with single mothers who work multiple jobs.

The SEED School has a faculty and staff of 125 for its student body of 320, Mr. Adler said.

“We are working with kids that the D.C. schools or any other regular school district was never designed to be able to work for,” he said.

Vol. 25, Issue 28, Pages 5,17

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Correction: 
This story erred in describing the SEED School in the District of Columbia as the only public boarding school in the nation.

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