The Rise and Fall of a Community Landmark
When Northwestern High School opened its doors in 1965, it held a special place in the heart of Baltimore, Maryland. As a public high school, it was a beacon of integration in an era marred by racial division, offering quality education to all students regardless of their ethnic background.
The school stood firm for over five decades, fostering community and camaraderie among its students and staff. However, the announcement of its impending closure in 2016 was incredibly disappointing.
Alums, educators, and community leaders rallied in a desperate but unsuccessful campaign to keep the institution’s doors open.
The Community’s Struggle
Northwestern High School was listed as one of 26 schools targeted for closure under the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding, which formed the basis of the 21st Century School Buildings Program. Despite these plans, the Northwestern community did not stand idle.
They waged a tireless battle against the closure, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
School officials faced a tough decision. Renovating Northwestern’s sprawling campus would have cost an estimated $48 million, whereas the nearby Forest Park High School required significantly less than $13 million for renovations. Despite the community’s efforts, Northwestern High School ultimately closed in 2017.
Echoes of a Bygone Era
Northwestern High School left an indelible mark on its students and the community despite its closure. The school served a significant portion of students from low-income families, with nearly 80% receiving free or reduced lunch assistance, well above the state average of 38.5%.
The school is also remembered for its notable alums who went on to leave their marks on Baltimore and beyond. Among them is Sheila Dixon, who served as the Mayor of Baltimore City from 2007 to 2010, and Judges Jack I. Lesser and Barbara Waxman, who have done the District Court of Maryland, Baltimore City, for several decades.
A New Chapter
Today, the Northwestern High School building is not an empty shell. Instead, it has found a new purpose as a swing school for Cross Country Elementary/Middle School, which is being rebuilt as a 21st Century School.
Additionally, in the summer of 2025, the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute plans to move to Northwestern as a temporary space while its regular building is being renovated.
While the school no longer operates in its original capacity, its legacy lives on. The building still bustles with students’ energy, embodying a beacon of hope and progress for the city.
A Symbol of Change
The story of Northwestern High School is emblematic of Baltimore’s transformation over the decades. While the school’s closure stirred up feelings of nostalgia and loss, it paved the way for new opportunities.
The building’s repurposing as a swing school and the future temporary home of the Baltimore Polytechnic Institute symbolizes the city’s relentless pursuit of progress and commitment to providing quality education for its youth.
The Spirit of Northwestern Lives On
Despite Northwestern High School’s closure, its spirit remains alive and well in the hearts of its alums and the local community. The school’s legacy inspires those who walk its halls, fostering a sense of unity and pride that transcends time and change.
Indeed, the memories of cheering on the school’s sports teams, engaging in lively classroom discussions, and forming lifelong friendships are etched into the hearts of its alums.
The closure of the school has only strengthened these bonds, as former students and faculty come together to honor and remember the institution that shaped their formative years.
As Baltimore continues to evolve, the Northwestern High School building stands as a testament to the city’s past, present, and future. While it may no longer be a high school, its walls continue to foster education and growth, echoing the aspirations of its former students while nurturing the dreams of new generations.
In the face of change and uncertainty, one thing remains clear: the spirit of Northwestern High School is as vibrant as ever. Its legacy will continue to resonate in the hearts of Baltimore’s residents, serving as a beacon of hope, unity, and unwavering resilience for years to come.