Hampstead Hill Academy (HHA) recently received an eight-year renewal term as a public charter school. The unanimous vote on February 23, 2023, by the Board of School Commissioners, Baltimore City Public Schools, is an incredible accomplishment for HHA students, faculty, staff, parents, and its proud principal, Matt Hornbeck.
It’s also gratifying to the Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP), which operates HHA and five other neighborhood conversion charter schools in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools). HHA remains one of Maryland’s highest-achieving charter schools and one of the top public schools in Baltimore City. HHA had the highest 2022 Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) scores of any charter school in Baltimore City and the state. In fact, HHA’s MCAP results are higher than many schools in surrounding counties.
BCP has been working with HHA since 1996. After the Maryland charter law was established in 2003, HHA became one of the first conversion charter schools in Baltimore City. One of the key drivers of HHA’s success has been the continuity of its leadership with Matt Hornbeck serving as principal for nearly 20 years.
I talked with Matt recently about HHA’s rechartering, wonderful accomplishments, and why he’s such a passionate champion for public schools in Baltimore City.
Q: What does Hampstead Hill Academy’s rechartering as a public charter school mean to your students, staff, families, and you?
A: It means the world to us. It’s the result of years of hard work on the part of staff and students and years of trust on the part of our families. Parents send us the most important thing in their lives for six hours and 45 minutes every day and expect us to not only teach their children reading, math, science, and social studies, but to have a place that is filled with joy and love and respect and has lots of extracurricular activities as well.
This renewal allows us to make long-term plans for the future of HHA, which include expanding and improving our existing school facilities. An eight-year contract allows us to go to banks and donors to find additional capital funding. It shows how stable we are, and presents us with an opportunity to borrow money that we might not otherwise have access to.
This renewal continues our perfect streak of getting the maximum-available charter renewal term. Personally, it’s also fun because my younger brother, Mark Gaither, is the principal at BCP’s Wolfe Street Academy, which was the first charter school in Maryland to get an eight-year recharter. So, it makes our parents very proud.
Q: How does this achievement underscore what BCP is doing with neighborhood public charter schools?
A: BCP’s charter school model—converting neighborhood schools to charter schools for the neighborhood, not based on a lottery—is near ideal, I think. It gives site-based control, which means that teachers, administrators, and families can make lots of decisions at the neighborhood level and at the school level. It doesn’t pull kids away from their neighborhood schools. All BCP schools serve a neighborhood enrollment zone, and faculty and parents vote to convert to charter status. So you know everybody has bought in. We have the freedom and control to choose our teachers and our curriculum.
There are other charter school operators that convert neighborhood schools, but BCP is the oldest and largest in Maryland.
Q: How does being part of the BCP network of schools help you as an educator, innovator, and Hampstead Hill Academy’s principal?
A: Working with super smart people who are as committed, mission-driven, and pragmatic as my fellow BCP principal colleagues and our BCP colleagues is the reason I’ve stayed for two decades. Having the opportunity to work with wonderful people really makes a difference on a day-to-day basis. You know that you are walking in the same shoes even though we have very different school settings. We share and communicate with each other as a network and are able to connect as a community. Our teachers visit the other schools. HHA teachers have been invited to judge National History Day at City Springs, and their faculty was at HHA judging our National History Day competition. It’s just a great collegial atmosphere to learn from each other.
BCP’s professional training and development are unmatched in my experience compared to anything that’s provided elsewhere. Our recent all-BCP teacher/staff professional development day at Morgan State University in January was tailored to what teachers need. Teachers from our six schools serve as presenters, so it’s great to have that kind of peer-to-peer talent. [After the morning professional development program, BCP hosted its annual Leading Minds: Challenging Conversations in Public Education symposium.]
Q: I’m sure that there are plenty, but are there one or two proud moments over the past 20 years as Hampstead Hill Academy’s principal that you can share?
A: The fact that enrollment has just continued to climb, and our waiting list has continued to grow year after year after year is one! We’re part of a stabilizing force in this part of Baltimore City. We represent more than 1% of the entire school district. We’ve got 868 kids now, and it’s very diverse from a language, income, and race perspective. We have hundreds of kids who are first-generation American, and hundreds who will be first-generation college students when they go to college. We are so very, very proud of all of our students and staff.
I think that the problems that we face today as a society are because we are segregated by schools, neighborhoods, language, race, and income. HHA is a diverse place in a high-performing setting. The implementation of reading mastery and Direct Instruction is truly the engine for school improvement. It moves kids from learning to read to reading to learn very quickly and forms the foundation for all content areas and for our kids to thrive. Combine this with our focus on Restorative Practices, which allows kids to be seen and heard, and you have a real recipe for success. BCP has been benefitting DI for 30 years and Restorative Practices for 15 years.
At HHA, our homegrown Leaders Go Places (LGP) for our middle school students is a natural extension of Restorative Practices. I think it is a big part of our middle school being propelled to the 93rd percentile in the state. We modeled it after a program at another city charter school. We track the kids’ GPA, attendance, and community service. If you have all of those things pointing in the right direction then you make either bronze, silver, gold, and platinum levels. Each level has its own rewards like shirts, campus visits, and community-building trips like snow-tubing. About 80% of our kids make the level, but we’re really focused on the 20% that are not making the level and how to support them on their path to success in school.
Q: You’re planning an addition to Hampstead Hill Academy. Tell me about that.
In 2009, we raised $1.9 million for building renovations. In 2011, we built a $1.2 million addition. Now, we’re working toward a $15 million new addition for HHA. We are about two-thirds of the way toward our goal. We are very proud of the work we’ve done so far and hopefully we can get the rest of the funding secured.
We’re working with EwingCole and Whiting-Turner to design and build a 20,000 square foot addition for our way-over-capacity school. This addition is going to provide six oversized classrooms, a new, full-size gymnasium, and a rooftop playground. For the first time, we’ll have a lactation room for staff and a more secure front entrance/office area to keep us all safer. We’re converting our smaller, existing gymnasium into a dedicated performing arts center. We’re very excited about what this means in terms of right sizing our building. With a new gym and arts center, we’re creating spaces where students can feed their mind and feed their body and soul.
Q: You’re a passionate advocate for public education and a product of Baltimore City Schools. Why Baltimore City Schools and why now?
A: We moved to Baltimore City when I was in 4th grade. I went from Thomas Jefferson Elementary to West Baltimore Middle School and graduated from City College. From there I went to Bowdoin College in Maine. I came back to teach in Baltimore City before going to law school at University of Maryland and working on Capitol Hill for the Council of Chief State School Officers on a project to improve high-poverty schools in 35 states. I finally got tired of writing about what other people were doing and wanted to go do it myself.
I decided to come back to Baltimore and made a four- to seven-year commitment to serve as principal at HHA. It became my calling. Baltimore City Schools is poised to really make a difference in the future of Baltimore’s families and the way people think of Baltimore. I believe that we are going to emerge from a very, very difficult period filled with violence and a soaring murder rate—the effects of Freddie Gray’s murder, the pandemic, and the historic red lining of neighborhoods in Baltimore City.
We’ve got fantastic leadership now at the state from Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson and Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones to our new Gov. Wes Moore. They are very focused on having Baltimore be the place that families want to settle. It’s a tech hotspot and will be the tech and entrepreneurial place to be. We have Morgan, Coppin, Loyola, Notre Dame, and Hopkins, to name a few amazing educational resources. The school district can be the engine to provide graduates for all local businesses. And how great to have our teaching staff be from Baltimore!
The work that Dr. Sonja Santelises, City Schools CEO, has provided for the last seven years and Dr. Andrés Alonso prior to that has been a truly a stabilizing force. This, plus the historic investments for Maryland’s future with billions and billions of dollars flowing toward schools that have high concentrations of poverty, and you’re going to see the City reap the benefits for years to come. And I think that there’s going to be an openness to having more site-based control like BCP schools offer because BCP is a shining example of what is possible when you take the toughest schools in challenging neighborhoods and turn them around. Baltimore’s time is now and our future is bright.
I don’t think people who live in the City really want to move to the end of a cul-de-sac in a county. They like sidewalks, community, the City’s food scene, parks, and all that the City can provide. But they have to have a place where they trust that their kids can learn, be safe, and thrive. BCP schools, along with many other City Schools, provide a way for families to stay in Baltimore.
Q: What are you excited about right now at Hampstead Hill Academy and as a public charter school?
A: Our commitment to hiring with a careful eye on diversity, equity, and inclusion is paying off. We have the most diverse faculty and staff we’ve ever had. We have amazing talent across the grades. We’re in the middle of doing formal teaching observations right now, and my fellow administrators and I are just amazed by the great teaching we are seeing. Great teaching looks like magic, but so much work goes into it. Our teachers and staff really understand what makes kids tick, what motivates them, and how to connect with them.
Read more about Hampstead Hill Academy.
About Matt Hornbeck
Principal, Hampstead Hill Academy, PS #047 since June 2003
Matt hails from a family of educators:
- Father David Hornbeck was State Superintendent of Maryland’s Schools for 12 years and Superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools for 6 years. He was instrumental in founding Strong Schools Maryland and worked tirelessly to form and shape the Kirwan Commission and fully fund the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
- Mother Becky Hornbeck, a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law, spent her career at the Baltimore Community Foundation working to improve Baltimore’s neighborhoods and public education.
- For nearly 20 years, Matt and his brother Mark Gaither have served as principals at BCP schools less than two miles apart: Matt at Hampstead Hill Academy; and Mark at Wolfe Street Academy.
Matt’s Prior Experience:
- Senior Consultant, Education Quality Institute, 2000-2003
- Senior Consultant and Principal Investigator, Education Resource Management Strategies, 1998-2003
- Director of Comprehensive School Reform Implementation Project, Comprehensive School Reform, 1998-2000
- Senior Associate: Improving High Poverty Schools Project, Council Of Chief State School Officers, 1996-1998
- Prior to law school, he taught in Baltimore City Public Schools, 1990-1993
- Temple University, Ed. M., 1999
- University of Maryland School of Law, J. D., 1996
- Bowdoin College, B.A., Government, 1989
- Baltimore City College (#480), Honors high school diploma, 1985
Certifications and Membership
Maryland State Department of Education
- Administrator I & II Endorsements – current
- Advanced Professional Teaching Certificate – current
Interstate Leaders Licensure Consortium- exemplary score on assessment for school leaders developed by 24 states, including Maryland
Member, CEO’s Principal’s Advisory Group and the CEO’s Leadership Reform Team
Member of Maryland State Bar Association – current