Goodwill to add degree program in Baltimore
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.