Spotlights
Retiring BCPS staff member builds legacy compiling history of our schools
12/02/2015

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Three years ago, E. Farrell Maddox did not set out to create a comprehensive history of Baltimore County Public Schools. The book, he said, “just kept growing.”

Maddox painstakingly compiled information from hundreds of sources including current and former BCPS leaders and staff as well as local historical societies, the Baltimore County Public Library, and various photo archives. His efforts resulted in Building the Future, which documents nearly 300 years of our schools from conception to reality.

This is not Maddox’s first foray into book authorship. He completed an extensive family tree, and enjoyed using the layout and writing skills he had developed as yearbook advisor and designer at Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts and the former Middle River Junior High School.

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Maddox and his grandmother on a 1993 visit to her old schoolhouse. This visit helped inspire Maddox to work on his history book about Baltimore County schools.
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Maddox’s grandmother climbing over a fence to get to her old schoolhouse.
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“This is one of my favorite photos. It was taken in 1925. I love the cars in front of the building, which was my first assignment as a new teacher in Baltimore County in 1980. I am also excited that the building is now being renovated to be reopened as Catonsville Elementary School.” – Farrell Maddox
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Just as his family tree grew to encompass previously unknown branches, Building the Future expanded beyond Maddox’s original vision of showcasing the evolution of BCPS schoolhouses from log buildings to today’s high-tech campuses. Stories became a central part of each school’s profile, and photos dating back to the 1800s provided personality.

A labor of love

“I’m so connected with everything in Baltimore County,” Maddox said, and those connections served him well. Maddox knew the research would be quite an undertaking. He had created videos to celebrate the anniversaries of Patapsco and Perry Hall high schools. Information was difficult to find, and what he could find was disorganized.

But as a BCPS alumnus who served as teacher, department chair, and magnet coordinator at BCPS secondary schools, he knew where to turn. He also drew from his current position as BCPS supervisor of visual arts and his experience on planning teams for school design and renovation.

Maddox kept an open mind: “It was just an adventure to try to find the pieces.” They came together from school scrapbooks, folders, yearbooks, images he came across on the Internet, and boxes of school construction photos. He laments the loss of archival information that has likely been thrown away over the years, or that might be living in someone’s home.

Some of those items were retrieved through Maddox’s diligence. As word got around about his project, he discovered that a member of his church had taught at Baltimore Highlands Elementary. At 100 years old, Mrs. Carolyn Evans-Abercrombie shared pictures documenting the fashion of dress and hairstyles on students and staff from the 1930s and 1940s as well as pictures of cars.

She then referred Maddox to Dr. Edna May Merson, who welcomed him into her home to share memorabilia dating back to the 1930s from her tenure as teacher and administrator at Campfield Early Childhood Center, and Arbutus, Chase, Lansdowne, and Woodmoor elementary schools. In turn, Merson introduced Maddox to Ken Mays, the founding principal of Franklin Elementary School in the 1950s. Mays had kept extensive school documentation including phone books and information about starting the lunch program.

This “snowball” style typified Maddox’s research process. “It just kept growing,” he said. “Someone else would say, ‘I have something.’” In addition to one-on-one conversations, Maddox pored over countless articles and gathered photos from the Baltimore Sun and the former Baltimore News-American. He also scoured files at the University of Maryland.

A history emerges

Images throughout the book depict architectural renderings, documentation of damage, construction scenes, and completed buildings as well as classroom instruction, class pictures, assemblies, and celebrations. One of Maddox’s favorites is a panoramic photo of the dedication of Cockeysville Consolidated School on October 9, 1926, featuring the entire student body, staff, families, and a band.

Highlights of the adventure, as Maddox put it, included chats with Dr. Robert Dubel, who began 16 years as BCPS superintendent in 1976. Maddox remembers listening to Dubel’s inspirational kick off speeches as a young teacher, and dedicated the book to him.

Maddox noted similarities among conversations about school construction through the years. Communities continue to debate whether or not to build schools, how to draw boundaries, and completion timelines. The book also documents Baltimore County’s “colored schools” for African American students prior to desegregation orders.

In his opinion, Building the Future highlights the importance of changes in school design to meet the needs of today’s students. Technology has evolved from classroom TVs to systemwide wireless and broadband access. Furniture and space are now designed to be flexible for different kinds of student groupings. However, one idea that was once embraced for its potential to build community – open space – has proven challenging in terms of noise.

Paying it forward

Maddox reported positive reactions to the book, explaining that it reminds alumni of the schools that “got us to where we are today.” When Norwood Elementary Office Secretary Millie Brown, who edited the book, shared it with others, she was greeted with excitement. Maddox was also happy to refresh memories for those like Debra Balcer, administrative secretary III at Battle Grove Elementary School. The book allows her to once again see her own school, which was torn down.

In contrast, when Maddox talked to about a dozen original students from the former Chase and Bengies schools, none remembered the Chase Consolidated schoolhouse. On December 22, 1939, students from both schools were bussed to the new stone building including Maddox’s father, aunt, and uncle. All had fond memories not of the building but of those new school busses.

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A panoramic photo of the dedication of Cockeysville Consolidated School on October 9, 1926, featuring the entire student body, staff, families, and a band.

Building the Future has become a capstone of Maddox’s 35-year career with BCPS as he prepares to retire at the end of 2015. It is fitting that the book’s focus expanded beyond buildings. “Ultimately, it’s about the people and what we’re doing for children,” he said.

About creating the book, Maddox reflected, “It was an incredible joy that I didn’t expect from the beginning.” He added, “You give back and that’s what this means more than everything ... I hope that people buy it and that it does good for kids.” With leadership from Debbie Phelps of the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools, the book is raising funds for projects that support 21st century learning in alignment with the BCPS curriculum and strategic plan.

The book ends with a request for additional information and photos, which are starting to flow in. Maddox hopes to continue following the book toward volume two.

In the next chapter of his life, Maddox will work with student teachers at his alma mater Towson University, continuing to invest in the future. Expressing satisfaction with his BCPS tenure, he said, “It’s been the best career ever.”

E. Farrell Maddox attended Chase Elementary School and Middle River Junior High School before graduating from Perry Hall High School. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education from Towson University. Maddox’s teaching career began in 1980 at Catonsville and Middle River junior high schools. He has served as supervisor in the BCPS Office of Visual Arts since 2005.

For more information or to reserve your copy of Building the Future to support BCPS students and schools, please visit http://educationfoundationbcps.org/news/2015/09/building-the-future/.
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