To celebrate Women’s History Month this March, we are going back to the beginning, to the visionary woman who co-founded the Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP) in 1996: Dr. Muriel Berkeley.

Today BCP is Maryland’s largest charter school operator and is recognized for pioneering Direct Instruction and Restorative Practices in Baltimore City Public Schools. Muriel had a vision for what public school education could be in Baltimore, and her work in enacting this vision resulted in decades of improved reading outcomes and supportive school cultures throughout Baltimore. 

For most of her career, Muriel, who is retired, was a teacher, first in New Jersey, then in Baltimore City Public Schools. She also taught undergraduate and graduate school courses at Goucher College, Towson University, and George Washington University. 

In her book, A History of the Baltimore Curriculum Project (Scholar Antiqua Press, 2002, co-authored with R. John Blackley), Muriel writes of educational pioneers who paved the way for BCP’s unique approach to charter schools created in the community school model. In 1990, she was tapped by Baltimore’s Abell Foundation to co-lead a grant with Bob Embry, Abell president, on implementing the success of Baltimore’s Calvert School curriculum in two City schools. Muriel was well acquainted with Calvert’s successful home instruction curriculum–her eldest daughter was a student at Calvert School, which was founded in Baltimore in 1897. Muriel later served on Calvert’s board of trustees.

By 1995, the pilot program using Calvert’s pedagogy was successful, but Calvert could not sustain an expansion into other City Schools while maintaining its own school. As part of the Abell Foundation grant, Muriel had learned of the research-based reading instruction program, Direct Instruction, created by Zig Engelmann. Muriel, who had begun teaching immediately after receiving her undergraduate degree at Radcliffe College, Harvard, reflects in her book that “it took 28 years before [I] found the approach [I] sought.” 

A year later, Muriel and Bob founded BCP with Muriel as the first President, a position she would hold until 2012. BCP piloted Direct Instruction curriculum at six City elementary schools: Arundel, Robert Coleman, General Wolfe, Roland Park, Hampstead Hill, and City Springs. (BCP became a charter school operator in 2005 following the Maryland Charter School Law in 2003.)

Muriel saw the power and potential of Direct Instruction and how it could help all teachers and students achieve great success. The basis of Direct Instruction–that every child can learn–is the core of Muriel as a teacher and as a person. She believes that everyone can achieve and has done all that is in her power to help others embrace their possibilities.

Laura Doherty

BCP President and CEO

Muriel also pioneered the use of Restorative Practices in Baltimore City Schools. In 2006, after attending a workshop at the International Institute for Restorative Practices, Muriel recognized that schools would benefit from this community-building and problem-solving model. She brought the idea first to City Springs, where Dr. Rhonda Richetta, Principal, seized the opportunity, making City Springs a model in the country for the program. Hampstead Hill quickly followed suit, as did all of the BCP schools. Restorative Practices is used widely today in City Schools and around the state.

Muriel’s enthusiasm for BCP, Direct Instruction, and Restorative Practices never waned during her tenure. She inspired principles and colleagues, Board members and community leaders about the potential of Direct Instruction and the impact a classically inspired program–BCP’s curriculum also has its roots in Calvert’s approach–based on decades of research can have on 21st century urban schools. 

After retiring from BCP, Muriel served on the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners until 2019.

Thank you, Muriel, for your curiosity, tenacity, and unwavering vision for what is possible in the classroom.

Read more about Direct Instruction and its resurgence in national education as part of the renewed movement for the “science of reading.”

Reflections on Dr. Berkeley from BCP Principals

We asked our principals who worked with Dr. Berkeley at BCP to share their thoughts on the impact she had on their careers and schools.

From Matt Hornbeck, Principal, Hampstead Hill Academy:

Visionary. Leader. Rock. Mentor. Dr. Muriel Berkeley is all those things to me, and more. For the first half of my career as a principal, she was always there–evenings, weekends, and early every morning to compassionately supporting students, teachers, families, and me. Under her leadership, I learned to focus, support a staff, and deliver results. I didn’t know it when I met her in 1990, but she has had more of  an impact on guiding me to find my life‘s work than any other person. She’s also one of the kindest and most humble people you will meet. 

Anecdotally, Dr. Berkeley said, ‘You don’t have any schoolwide rules.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.  Well, let me go find some schoolwide rules online.’ She didn’t use the word dummy, but she should have. She said,’“No (dummy), you can’t just find someone else’s rules. You have to go through a process of developing a mission, vision, and rules that mean something and are owned by your staff.’

This example, as well as her sustained foundational commitment to restorative practices and the science of reading, as embodied by Direct Instruction, make it impossible for her to be considered anything but a true visionary.

From Mark Gaither, Principal, Wolfe Street Academy:

Since I first learned of Dr. Berkeley and then got to know her as a BCP principal she has stood as one of those fundamental grassroots revolutionaries and visionaries for children and particularly for children at risk. She has grown over the years from teacher of young children, to teacher of adults who will work with young children, to leader among leaders at BCP and the Baltimore City School Board of Commissioners. Throughout that journey, Muriel holds the child at the center of her decisions and demands that others do the same. Through her efforts and energy, tens of thousands of children in Baltimore and further afield have benefited, as has each community that she touches. 

From Dr. Rhonda Richetta, Principal, City Springs Elementary / Middle School:

Dr. Muriel Berkeley is one of the most intelligent, compassionate, humble, and extraordinary women I know who has influenced my life probably more than she knows.  When I stepped into the role of principal of City Springs Elementary/Middle School, Muriel was there for me every single day offering her support, her knowledge, and resources that carried me through that initial, challenging year. 

In fact, it was Dr. Berkeley who introduced me to Restorative Practices, the adoption of which began the transformation of City Springs into the amazing school it is today. Her unwavering and thoughtful support in the years to come have played a significant role in who I am today as a school leader and as a woman. I strive to emulate Dr. Berkeley in my life in many ways. I am grateful and fortunate that Dr. Berkeley has influenced and touched my life in the ways in which she has. 

About the Baltimore Curriculum Project

Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP) is the largest operator of local neighborhood, public charter schools in Maryland. We create safe, supportive learning environments for children PK-8 by providing innovative, research-based educational strategies, intensive teacher training and extensive support for administration and staff. We support our local neighborhood needs by tailoring our resources and support through community partnerships.

As one of the longest-running charter operators in Maryland, our schools are regularly recognized as some of the most highly acclaimed neighborhood charter schools in the state. 

Pimlico Elementary / Middle School

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