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Three decades of dedication: Cecil Elementary stands out

Baltimore City Schools is a district that faces a number of challenges in educating our kids, both inside and outside of the classroom. But it’s how one school handles those challenges that has set it apart.

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- Baltimore City Schools is a district that faces a number of challenges in educating our kids, both inside and outside of the classroom. But it’s how one school handles those challenges that has set it apart.

Many students, classes and generations have passed through the halls of Cecil Elementary over the last 30 years. But despite all that change, one thing has remained constant.

Roxanne Forr has helped shape the story of the east Baltimore school for 30 years, first as a teacher and now the principal. Her work day usually starts at 5:00 in the morning and concludes around 6:00 at night. In between, she’s barely in her office - instructing, disciplining and encouraging the students with a caring toughness that is often stern.

“I really wanted my children to come here even though we didn’t live in the zone, so we traveled to get here,” says Jocelyne, who had Ms. Forr as a first grade teacher and is now the parent of two Cecil students.

Many of Forr’s former students now have children attending the school.

“So when I call and ask for something, they are not going to say no to their first grade teacher,” says Forr. “That is a bond that was built over the years.”

That bond has united this community around its elementary school, because over the decades, when many chose to leave, Ms. Forr stayed. She says this was where she got her first job, and she couldn’t leave.

“We know that the neighborhood can be a bit rough at times,” says Jocelyne. “We still come because we love Ms. Forr and we love the school.”

In just one week in April, there were 13 robberies, 10 thefts and three shootings reported. Eleven arrests were made within one half-mile of the school.

But despite the challenges within the community, students at Cecil do better.

School data tells us 28 percent of kids in this school are proficient in math. Up to nine times higher than nearby elementary schools that draw from the same neighborhoods, where up to 93 percent of children qualify for free or reduced lunch. English proficiency at Cecil is 26 percent. At Dallas F. Nicholas - down the road - it’s 1 percent.

But Forr humbly admits she doesn’t know what makes Cecil different.

“If I had the answer, I would definitely share it with every school, so that we could wave that magic wand. Exactly what it is, I don’t know. The longevity, I’m sure has something to do with it,” she says.

When Forr decided to stay, others did too. Nearly half of Cecil’s teachers have more than 10 years of experience. At the elementary school down the road, only 3 percent of teachers have more than 10 years of experience.

Forr has spent her career building a trust with the community, and it requires an honesty that doesn’t stop when her students leave the building.

“I do walk kids home when I need to,” said Forr. “Just because you don’t pick up a phone doesn’t mean we’re not in this together. It’s that important.”

Important because the story of Cecil Elementary is Forr’s to help shape, but it’s the community’s story to own.

As Forr concludes her third decade in June, she says her job is still rewarding. It’s a calling that will bring her back in September for year 31.

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