The fight for City Neighbors Charter School began in a community in Northeast Baltimore City, in the summer of 2003, soon after the Maryland Charter School Act was signed into law. A mother of three small children, Bobbi Macdonald, became inspired by the possibility of creating a public school that believed in education of the whole child, the arts, and community building, one that celebrated the greatness of each child. Bobbi began leading a group of parents and community leaders to open the first charter school in Baltimore: City Neighbors Charter School. One of the greatest challenges facing the founders was in having to work with a weak charter school law that gave parents and community members the right to open a charter school, but clearly defined neither the funding nor the autonomy that those independent schools needed to serve their students.
In March 2004,City Neighbors Charter School was the first group to turn in an application. Unfortunately, the City school board was not prepared to act on the application, and the founders had to appeal to the State Board of Education to have the application reviewed. To its credit, in November 2004, the State ordered the City to respond to City Neighbors’ application promptly. In the same appeal, City Neighbors requested that the State declare the city board’s cap illegal. With its cap, the City had sought to limit the number of new charter schools, but the State Board agreed with City Neighbors, and the founders were proud to see the cap fall. The founders continued moving forward to prepare for the opening. They worked hard to set policy, hold registration and enrollment, prepare the building for renovations and generate more than 200 resumes from highly qualified educators from around the world. The State approved a grant of $400,000 for City Neighbors facilities renovations, and foundations agreed to make contributions, but the problems persisted as the City school system still had not granted a charter. Without a charter, City Neighbors could not get access to the funds they needed to start construction on their building, a beautiful 3-story stone educational facility attached to a church. Without a renovated building, the school could not open. This seemingly insurmountable hurtle was cleared when Bob Embry, president of The Abell Foundation, stepped in and guaranteed a loan for City Neighbors to complete construction.
Throughout its history, City Neighbors Charter School has acted like the bit of sand that makes the oyster create a pearl. As the hope of families all over the city who felt frustrated by traditional schools, City Neighbors fought to create a place for black and white families of all economic levels to come together and seek that which united them: high standards for education. The fight to open City Neighbors Charter School was a fight for people. Not just parents, teachers and children, but all people. Young and old, rich and poor, black and white and everyone in between. That is why the founders of City Neighbors always knew they would succeed. They believed in the indomitable spirit of the people of Baltimore. On September 6, 2005, the dream came true. City Neighbors Charter School opened its doors to 120 city students.