A Tragic Mistake at One of Baltimore’s Best Public High Schools

CEM intern Stavros Halkias is an alumni of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. We’re excited to share his writing with our listeners. Please let us know what you think.

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute is one of the best schools in the state of Maryland. It is consistently one of the best performing schools in the state with regard to standardized testing, has a list of influential and successful alumni that is both expansive and ever growing, and is often vaunted as one of the few Baltimore City Schools offering a world class education to its students. The success of the school is due, in no small part, to extremely talented and dedicated faculty that are willing to put their students first. In the recent history of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, or Poly, there was no faculty member more talented or dedicated to his field than Dennis Jutras. Unfortunately, Dennis Jutras will be nowhere to be found when Poly students return to school in September.
Click “Read More” below for the rest of this article.

On May 28th, the director of Poly, Dr. Barney Wilson, made it clear that the Social Sciences department, which Mr. Jutras heads, would merge with the World Language department, headed by Audrey Black. Under the plan Jutras, though keeping his title, would essentially be demoted as Black would lead the new combination department. In response to the move, Mr. Jutras has decided to leave Poly and seek other teaching opportunities outside of the city, much to the chagrin of many concerned alumni, myself included.

I’m writing from two perspectives here, both as a CEM intern eager to shed light on a problem at one of our city’s top schools, and as a recent alumnus of Poly with a deep respect for both the institution and his former teacher, Dennis Jutras. Although Mr. Jutras always taught me to leave personal bias out of my writing, I must admit I cannot in this case. During my time at Poly, and truly throughout my entire life, no individual outside of my family has had the kind of impact Dennis Jutras had. It is because of his guidance and tutelage that I transformed from a confused sophomore with subpar grades to a scholarship student working to change the world through the Sondheim program at UMBC.

I’d like to think that I stand out in Mr. Jutras’s career, that he will forever remember me as a special case in which he pushed a student to excel for the first time in that student’s life. In reality though, ensuring that students reach their full potential is simply what Dennis Jutras does, regardless of the toll it takes on his life.

In fact, if he was leaving Poly because he was burned out, because he grew tired of getting paid a salary that in no way reflected the amount of work he did, because he felt his ability to make a difference in the lives of kids was fading, or because it was time for him to pursue bigger, better things, there would be no uproar following his departure. Unfortunately, it is the administration’s decision to combine two seemingly unconnected disciplines into one department and a de facto demotion that is the trigger behind Jutras’ departure. The fact of the matter is, he is leaving Poly and Baltimore City for the same job he is currently working, for likely similar money, with likely the same unequivocally positive results.

In the wider context of Poly, this move is one of a series of questionable ones made by this administration. During my four years at the school, I saw, in addition to some more successful initiatives, policy focused on superficial matters of perception of appearance (a renovation of the football stadium, café-style library chairs and tables, extensive landscaping and remodeling of the school’s exterior, to name a few) while real problems of student behavior and performance became more and more prevalent. Now, one of the most gifted and driven educators in the city – the ‘05-’06 city teacher of the year in fact -is leaving and likely taking with him one of the best History departments in the state. The clear losers in this situation are the generations of Poly students who will go without the instruction of Dennis Jutras.

Though he has yet to find a job for the next school year, I am not scared for my former teacher. I am, however, incredibly concerned for my alma matter and not because Jutras is leaving. The school can and will go on without him. I am scared because they are forcing him out the door. With his mastery of the subject matter he teaches combined with the unique blend of leadership, intelligence and selflessness he displays daily, Dennis Jutras is exactly the kind of teacher Baltimore City cannot afford to lose. If the administration can’t see that, what else might they be wrong about?

Dennis Jutras will be okay in the future, the attributes that make him indispensable are the same ones that will ensure his success. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Baltimore Polytechnic Institute with any real measure of confidence. Even worse than Poly, I’m scared for Baltimore City as a whole. If arguably the best school in the system squanders the invaluable resource of teachers that are both masters of pedagogy and compassion for their students, the teachers most necessary to glean potential from the products of an urban existence rife with poverty and hopelessness, what chance do the other, less fortunate, more dangerous schools in our system stand?

-written by Stavros Halkias, Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar at UMBC & CEM Intern