Fred Lazarus IV: Arts Educator Creates a Masterpiece

One of America’s most influential college presidents has announced plans to retire next year. With bold, metaphorical brush strokes Fred Lazarus’ created an academic masterpiece. Under Lazarus’ leadership, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) has become an internationally recognized creative design center.

Lazarus came to MICA in 1978 after a stint in the Peace Corps. His academic background made him a surprising choice for an art college— he had an MBA and undergraduate degree in economics. Furthermore, the “canvas” for his masterwork posed its own set of challenges. The school’s main buildings were surrounded by several impoverished, crime ridden urban neighborhoods and art schools were falling out of academic favor, as the public’s attention began its shift towards science and technology courses.

Nevertheless, over the next 35 years Lazarus successfully implemented the mission of a small, private art college, and sparked revitalization in a community fallen upon hard times.

MICA’s enrollment has more than doubled; the size of the campus has increased tenfold; the endowment has grown by more than 25 times; three research centers have been created; and seventeen undergraduate and graduate academic programs have been added. The MFA graduate programs are ranked in the top 10, nationally by US News and World Report.

Parade magazine recently promoted MICA’s undergraduate studio arts programs as one of the top two nationwide. Programming instituted by the College in both interdisciplinary study and community and social engagement have sparked international trends in higher education.

“I am very proud of MICA’s international reputation as a place where the most talented artists and designers come to understand and begin to realize their potential as cultural and communication leaders,” Lazarus said. “I have been able to watch gifted young people come in as freshmen, graduate with all of the promise in the world, and then take their places as art and design leaders, business owners, and catalysts for societal change.”

One of the jewels in his professional crown is Artscape, anchored in and around MICA’s sprawling campus.

Drawing crowds of over 350,000, Artscape is the nation’s largest free arts festival with an economic impact of 26 million dollars. The annual event is credited with bolstering Baltimore’s reputation as cultural destination.

Upon the announcement of his retirement the media, politicians and community leaders have been showering Lazarus with well-deserved praise. The Baltimore Sun said, “Maryland Institute College of Art President Fred Lazarus IV is transforming a section of Baltimore through his understanding of the connections among art, education and community development. MICA under his leadership has grown and increased in prominence, but his most permanent contribution to the state may be in the flowering of the Station North Arts District.”

“Lazarus’ leadership has not only helped empower countless cultural organizations, but also strengthened the state’s colleges, arts education in K–12 schools, and even the economy through the thousands of visitors who attend the annual Artscape festival, said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. “Because of Fred’s legacy, I know that MICA will continue to attract the most creative students to Maryland to learn and eventually become key members of the innovative workforce that makes Maryland unique.”

“My association with Fred goes back to 1978 when I chaired the search committee that selected him as MICA’s president, and it was one of the best decisions in which I ever have participated,” said George L. Bunting, Jr., a long-time MICA Trustee and major benefactor of the College. “His leadership has inspired me, and countless others, to see MICA’s great potential, and to work closely with him in achieving it.”

Founded in 1826, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) is the oldest continuously degree-granting college of art and design in the nation. The College enrolls nearly 3,500 undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies students from all 50 states and 57 countries in fine arts, design, electronic media, art education, liberal arts, and professional studies degree and non-credit programs.

Redefining art and design education, MICA is pioneering interdisciplinary approaches to innovation, research and community and social engagement. Alumni and programming reach around the globe, even as MICA remains a cultural cornerstone in the Baltimore/Washington region, hosting hundreds of exhibitions and events annually by

students, faculty and other established artists.

Jayne Matthews Hopson is an education development manager who writes each week about education because “only the educated are free.”

Winning the Battle Against Summer Learning Loss

Research shows poor and minority students who already lag behind their wealthier, white peers are at a higher risk for summer learning loss. Educators have long been aware summer learning loss is a tremendous waste of time, money and academic energy. However, according to a recent study what is most disturbing about summer learning loss is the cumulative academic impact. “Over time, the difference between the summer learning rates of low-income and higher-income students contributes substantially to the achievement gap.”

The Rand Education Foundation funded a report titled “Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning.” This comprehensive study covers a number of factors that should be considered when planning an effective summer learning program, including cost, location, staffing, curriculum development and evaluation methodology.

Of particular interest to parents and guardians looking for ways to stem summer learning loss is the section titled Components of Quality Summer Learning Programs. Topics include smaller class size, differentiated instruction, high-quality instruction, aligned school year and summer curricula, engaging and rigorous programming, maximized participation and attendance, and parental involvement.

Smaller class size is thought to “provide teachers with more time to work individually with students and to create greater opportunities to differentiate instruction based on student needs.

Research has found that small class size is associated with program effectiveness; programs in which class size was capped at 20 students were more effective in producing achievement gains.”

Programs intended to offer individualized instruction were more effective than classes without differentiated lessons. Similarly, experts recommend that teachers work with small learning groups. When faced with large class sizes and a broad range of ability levels, differentiation is a challenge. Nevertheless, every effort should be made to deliver summer programs with smaller class size.

High-quality instruction is another important component of a successful summer program. The report found that giving preference to teachers who are highly motivated and effective during the regular school year was directly related to improved achievement. Also recommended, is to give teachers professional support and guidance to maximize the quality of their instruction.

“Aligning the school-year and summer curricula also may improve the effectiveness of summer programming. This content alignment can take two forms. First, the content of summer programs might be aligned with that of the prior grade to provide remediation on core concepts that students have failed to master.

Second, the content could align to the upcoming school year so that students have previewed core concepts and have a head start toward mastery.” This approach has the potential to not only reduce summer learning loss it could give struggling students an academic advantage in the fall.

According to the report “Many of the experts recommend expanding the curriculum beyond remediation. This recommendation is intended to promote comprehensive programs that go beyond ‘drill-and-kill’ instruction and provide students with (1) expanded learning through innovative instruction that accelerates learning and (2) opportunities for enrichment.

There are two reasons for this recommendation. First, for students to benefit from additional instruction, they must attend. Providing students with interesting, engaging enrichment opportunities is considered a method of promoting attendance in voluntary programs.

Second, some experts also want the instructional methods and experiences of summer to feel different for students and to propel students forward in their learning.”

Student participation and attendance are necessary to improve academic outcomes— students must be active participants in order to benefit from the instruction. “Recruiting students into the program and then maintaining their attendance is critical. Options for recruiting include mandating the program and rewarding participation with incentives such as payments, prizes, parental pledges, parental benefits, and bus passes.

Not surprisingly, programs that encourage and receive strong parental involvement are the most successful at stemming summer learning loss. “There are a number of reasons that involving parents might be an effective component of a summer program. First, gaining parental buy-in for a program should increase enrollment and attendance.

Second, outreach to parents can include information about methods of expanding learning opportunities in the home, which could increase at-home learning as well.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson is an education writer who believes education matters because “only the educated are free.”

President Salutes Morehouse graduate Leland Shelton

Imagine this. You have earned a Phi Beta Kappa key, which makes you a member of the world’s most prestigious academic honor society. In a few days you will graduate from Morehouse College. After a quiet summer spent with family and friends you head off to Harvard Law School.

As you make final preparations for commencement day you miss several telephone calls. You are so busy, You don’t have time to retrieve your voice mail messages. One of the calls you missed was from the White House with perhaps the most exciting news of your life.

Leland Shelton knew his world would forever change after receiving his political science degree from Morehouse. His childhood hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Morehouse graduate. However, he told me hearing the President of the United States call his name caught him by such great surprise, his fellow graduates had to help him rise from his seat when the commander in chief told him to stand up.

Here are the words that brought to light Leland’s remarkable life story and propelled him into the national spotlight:

When Leland Shelton was four years old— where’s Leland? Stand up, Leland. When Leland was four-years-old social services took him away from his mama, put him in the care of his grandparents. By age 14, he was in the foster care system. Three years after that, Leland enrolled at Morehouse. And today he is graduating Phi Beta Kappa on his way to Harvard Law School. But he’s not stopping there. As a member of the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council, he plans to use his law degree to make sure kids like him don’t fall through the cracks.

When I spoke with Leland it was my intention to learn who and what inspired him to complete his college degree on time. I wanted to learn more about this young man who attended Baltimore City Public Schools. First, of all he was very polite and respectful. His responses were not only articulate; Leland’s words revealed a well-grounded, thoughtful young man fully prepared to envision his life beyond the glare of instant celebrity.

Leland, who graduated from Baltimore’s City College in 2009 said, he was accepted at several colleges including the University of Delaware. However, he knew as a child he wanted to attend Morehouse College. His choice was inspired by watching the 1999 animated feature, “Our Friend Martin.” The movie tells the story of a 12-year-old African American boy who may be held back in the seventh grade, because he is not studying. He is inspired to turn his life around once he learns about the many challenges Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to overcome after completing his Morehouse education.

Leland says his grandparents were a major influence is his life and credits them as the source of his drive and tenacity. “My grandparents raised me. They never had the opportunity to go to college, but I grew up watching all the sacrifices they made for me. I knew I had to make them proud.”

His transition to college was a lonely time for Leland. “When I first came to

Atlanta [to attend Morehouse] I had no friends, no relatives. I was an okay student in high school. But, I immediately decided to dedicate the next four years to not being average” says Leland.

Another important part of his success was the financial and moral support he received from the Black Professional Men, Inc (BPM). Following the advice of his high school guidance counselor

Leland applied for and was award a thousand dollar scholarship from the Baltimore based mentorship organization.

Leland says Rodney Carter, BPM vice president was always there for him. “The money was helpful, but his guidance and mentorship was priceless. Each years BPM hosts a breakfast the Saturday before Father’s Day and awards 12 scholarships to black male high school seniors who have been accepted into some of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities.”

Two years ago Carter called to tell me one of his students, Fagan Harris, a Stanford grad had been selected as a Rhodes scholar. In terms of high academic achievement that accomplishment would be pretty hard to top. Yet, I think most would agree a presidential shout-out is a unique recognition that not only excites the imagination, it acknowledges a student population often ignored or burdened with negative stereotypes.

As a rising junior Leland interned in the Washington, D.C. office of Senator John Kerry. “I learned a lot about the workings of our Congress. I was provided the opportunity to sit in on congressional hearings on foreign relations and briefings on SNAP benefits, and other welfare issues.” He crafted memorandums to staffers, conducted research and submitted a policy recommendation to a legislative assistant.

When asked about his future, after he completes law school, Leland plans to return to Baltimore and practice child advocacy law.

Congratulations to Leland and all the proud members of the class of 2013, with a special shout out to Jessica Brockington who graduated from Howard University.

For more information about this year’s Black Professional Men’s breakfast and awards ceremony visit:

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about academic issues because she believes “only the educated are free.”

When zero tolerance makes zero sense

— Kiera Wilmont a black, 16-year old straight-A student was handcuffed, arrested and charged with two felonies after her high school science experiment blew the top off a small water bottle. Kiera, an honor roll student has a reputation for being nice to everyone. She has never been in trouble with the law. However, she was expelled from school and charged as an adult. Kiera is black.

Kiera, who attended Bartow Senior High School, in Bartow, Florida, became the victim of a zero tolerance policy that disproportionately channels poor and minority students into the criminal justice system for minor incidents that warrant a more thoughtful, less life-altering reprimand.

According to the police report, “At 7:00 a.m. Monday April 30, Kiera and a classmate mixed aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a small water bottle. After about 30 seconds, the reaction created pressure inside the bottle, blowing the cap off with a pop that according to witnesses sounded like firecrackers going off. The reaction created a small amount of smoke. No one was hurt.”

Science sites familiar with the experiment describe what to expect: aluminum in the foil reacted with hydrochloric acid in the cleaner. The reaction produces hydrogen gas, which quickly builds the pressure inside the closed bottle until the plastic can’t take it any more and explodes outwards.

After the “explosion” Kiera tidied up and went to class thinking there was no problem. One can imagine her shock later in the day when police showed up to arrest, escort her off school grounds, and charge her with two felonies: possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds” and “discharging a destructive device.”

She was also expelled from school under a zero tolerance policy, which required immediate expulsion for any student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device — while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity— unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor.”

The aluminum foil and drain cleaner reaction is a popular high school experiment. “The problem seems to be that she wasn’t doing the experiment under controlled safety conditions, as in class or with her teachers.” Kiera told police she conducted the experiment in preparation for an upcoming science fair.

Authorities said if she had performed the experiment “in her own backyard, there would never have been an issue. But, since Kiera lives in an apartment, she “didn’t have access to any private outdoor areas.”

Public outrage over this well-publicized incident has been tremendous. It perhaps accounts for the fact that now Kiera will not be charged as an adult. At this time the felony charges are still pending. Her family is hopeful that the case will be dropped and she be allowed to return to school.

Things are looking brighter for Kiera. Her situation no doubt benefited from the national attention. Nevertheless, it makes one wonder how many other students suffer from an overzealous adherence to a policy that may or may fulfill its original intention.

A policy research report by Indiana University examines the history, philosophy and effectiveness of zero tolerance school disciplinary strategies. The following extract is an excellent departure point for a thoughtful consideration of these policies:

Growing out of Reagan-Bush era drug enforcement policy, zero tolerance discipline attempts to send a message by punishing both major and minor incidents severely. Analysis of a representative range of zero tolerance suspensions and expulsions suggests that controversial applications of the policy are not idiosyncratic, but may be inherent in zero tolerance philosophy.

There is as yet little evidence that the strategies typically associated with zero tolerance contribute to improved student behavior or overall school safety.

Research on the effectiveness of school security measures is extremely sparse, while data on suspension and expulsion raise serious concerns about both the equity and effectiveness of school exclusion as an educational intervention.

Community reaction has led some districts to adopt alternatives to zero tolerance, stressing a graduated system matching offenses and consequences, and preventive strategies, including bullying prevention, early identification, and improved classroom management. Building a research base on these alternatives is critical, in order to assist schools in developing more effective, less intrusive methods for school discipline.

Jayne Matthews Hopson, an education writer and mother of three school-aged children believes that “education matters, because only the educated are free.”

I’m just asking

What happens to students when a school closes, and what is the impact on the alumni?

As a native Baltimorean and proud graduate of the city’s public school system I am saddened each time a schoolhouse padlocks its door for the final time. These closures make me wonder if others feel the same sense of loss or displacement.

Every primary and middle school my siblings or I attended has been closed. Once shuttered, the classrooms where I learned to read, count, make friends and began my dream of earning a living as a writer, often fall upon hard times.

One of my old schools sat vacant for years, vandalized nearly beyond recognition. Another building etched into youthful memories was re-purposed into municipal use as a training facility. The middle school my brother attended became an alternative learning center for at-risk juveniles. Years after it was closed, toxic installation materials were discovered in the school where I attended kindergarten. It was quickly and quietly demolished.

During the 2013 Maryland legislative session, Baltimore City Public Schools secured permission and funding to implement a multi-million dollar facilities improvement venture. It remains to be seen if a better building equals a better education. One thing is certain, for many current students the upheaval and anxiety of going to a new, unfamiliar school will be disruptive at best and in some cases disastrous.

There is also the impact on underserved neighborhoods that desperately need the jobs and professional presence of a public school. Long after the chain grocery stores, first-run movie theaters, pharmacies and banks pulled up and moved away, schools and churches are often the only institutions left to anchor the community and offer a safe haven to residents.

I am aware that the city’s long-range plan is to replace the aging school buildings with new and better structures. But, in fragile neighborhoods, 18 months (or more) of construction and displacement can be tough on a family’s routine.

A few months ago, I heard that my high school, Northwestern is slated for closure. I can remember when the school opened. I was a seventh grader at Pimlico Junior High, which by the way closed a few years ago and is now a rather elaborate, state-of-the art police training facility. Former mayor Sheila Dixon graduated from Northwestern, a school that produced a number of doctors, lawyers, at least one public school principal and scores of professionals in other respected fields.

It’s no surprise that I’m pretty upset by the prospect of Northwestern shutting down. Given my thoughts on this issue it may seem I’m just someone resistant to change, reluctant to let go of the past. However, consider the words and thoughts of 17-year-old Alexis Banks,

a senior who spoke out publicly in protest of the planned closing of her high school. “Every student should have a high school to go back to, to say, ‘This is where I came from. This is what got me where I am.” Alexis, has been accepted to seven colleges including Virginia Tech and offered a full scholarship at Towson University.

Moving on, I’m just asking… am I the only one disturbed by the fact that one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers had failed seven college courses without getting kicked out of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth?

In my years as an educational advocate for poor and African American students, I have seen several young people who struggled academically be dismissed from a white college after failing two or three classes. To me this is an unbelievable footnote to the bombing that killed three bystanders and seriously injured over a 250 people. Nevertheless it’s true!

The New York Times obtained a copy of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college transcript. The 19-year-old University of Massachusetts (UMASS) student had seven Fs over three semesters, a D and a D-plus in two other courses. Ironically, one of his failing grades was in “Introduction to American Politics.

According to the school’s website the average GPA of accepted students is 3.25. Yet, he was a white, foreign-born student with grades that put him well below the college’s academic standards.

A former classmate reports that Tsarnaev said he wasn’t doing as well as he expected because going from high school to college is “totally different.”

Reports indicate he was in this country on a student visa, which would have been revoked if the school had kicked him out of college for academic failure. This is of course pure speculation, but perhaps the Boston Marathon tragedy could have been avoided with more diligent and fair academic oversight by UMASS.

Jayne Matthews Hopson, an education writer and mother of three school-aged children believes that “Education matters, because only the educated are free.”