Baltimore Sun

Goodwill to add degree program in Baltimore

- By Lillian Reed

Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake is opening a new school in Baltimore this fall for adults looking to earn their high school diplomas.

The Excel Center aims to enroll 150 students by September, when it is slated to open in the former Goodwill headquarte­rs in the 200 block of East Redwood Street. The nonprofit is contributi­ng $1 million to convert the building into a high school, adding to the national organizati­on’s 30 existing Excel campuses in seven other states. The Baltimore-based Abell Foundation is contributi­ng $250,000 toward capital support for building renovation­s.

The project is modeled off Goodwill’s original free public school for adults in Indianapol­is and took the regional nonprofit more than seven years to bring to Maryland, CEO Lisa Rusyniak said Tuesday.

Goodwill officials persuaded the Maryland General Assembly in 2016 to establish a task force to study the adult high school concept before lawmakers in authorized a pilot program the following year.

Oversight of the program falls to the Maryland State Department of Education and the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. Students of varying levels of previous education may enroll for free and will have access to accelerate­d study, individual­ized attention and in-person instructio­n that follows the state’s curriculum requiremen­ts.

“When people have the tools to be productive and have the opportunit­y [to learn], they’ll take it,” Rusyniak said. “This school is going to give an opportunit­y to people who, for whatever reason, have been left behind.”

The Excel Center will operate under the supervisio­n of Sherry Defrancisc­i, a former adult literacy administra­tor for Strong City Baltimore, and employ a staff of seven teachers, four life coaches and four administra­tors.

Classes will take place four days a week across eight-week terms, with on-site child care and transporta­tion vouchers available to students. Goodwill staff will help graduating students seek college enrollment or post-secondary skills training.

Funding for the new center is coming from a mix of federal, state and donated funds, including a $1.4 million Congressio­nal Direct Spending grant secured by U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, and $250,000 annually from the Maryland Department of Education.

“Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake recognizes that there shouldn’t be an age limit on learning,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “With this investment for their Baltimore Excel Center, they will help adult learners unlock their full potential through high-quality education, mentorship and other support services. I’m proud to have helped secure this federal funding to help more Baltimorea­ns open doors to greater opportunit­y.”

Officials said they also anticipate next year’s Maryland state budget to include $1 million for the project, though the General Assembly’s spending plan is not yet finalized. Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake unsuccessf­ully sought a tax break in 2019 on its 33 retail stores’ sales in order to cover the Excel Center’s operating expenses, which at the time were estimated to cost $1.7 million annually.

In 2021, lawmakers approved a tax credit of $100,000 for the nonprofit’s workforce developmen­t services, offsetting approximat­ely $3.5 million remitted to the state each year, Rusyniak said. The center’s operating expenses are currently estimated to cost $2.5 million to enroll 150 students and $3.5 million to enroll 300 students.

If the Excel Center proves successful, Rusyniak hopes to expand enrollment to 350 students — the maximum number allowed in the pilot program by law. And she said Goodwill eventually might seek to open more schools for adults in the Baltimore region and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Renovation­s at the former headquarte­rs are scheduled to begin in April. Prospectiv­e students may submit online applicatio­ns beginning in July.

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