Today, a special edition of Midday, live from historic Sumner Hall, in Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Sumner Hall was built in 1908. It served as the meeting place for the Charles Sumner Post #25, a Grand Army of the Republic post founded by African American Union Veterans of the Civil War. For decades, Sumner Hall was the social and cultural hub of Chestertown’s African American community.
The theme of our show today is “Embracing Change in a Historic Community,” and over the course of the next hour, Tom and his guests will focus on three examples of that change -- in health care, public education, and race relations -- and its impact on the people of Chestertown and Kent County.
In our first segment, we tell the story of Chestertown Hospital, and the intense public debate sparked three years ago when the hospital's owner, University of Maryland Medical System's Shore Regional Health, said it planned to transfer its inpatient services to another of the system's hospitals, 40 miles away. Joining Tom to discuss the issues facing both the hospital and the communities it serves are Ken Kozel, the President and CEO of Shore Regional Health, and Dr. Jerry O’Connor, a surgeon who has practiced medicine in Chestertown for 35 years. He’s also the founder of Save the Hospital, a doctor-led local group working to keep the inpatient beds in Chestertown.
In the second segment, we spotlight the issues facing education in Kent County -- Maryland’s smallest county, both in terms of square miles and population. The school system here, not unlike schools in Baltimore City and elsewhere around the state, is struggling with dwindling enrollment. What does that mean for funding, and for efforts to attract families with school age children to Chestertown and throughout Kent County? Tom puts those questions to Dr. Karen Couch, the Superintendent of the Kent County Public Schools for the past five years. She is also a member of the Kirwan Commission, which is working to devise new funding formulas for Maryland’s public schools. We're also joined by Trish McGee, the president of the Kent County School Board. She was elected to the board in 2014; she is seeking reelection. She is also Deputy Editor and Sports Editor of the Kent County News, and she covered education for the News before being elected to the school board.
And in our final segment of the hour, Tom is joined by Airlee Ringgold Johnson, a community organizer, a retired member of the Kent County Historical Society and the current chair of Legacy Day, the annual commemoration of the rich history of African Americans in Kent County, which this year spotlights the history of the racial desegregation of Chestertown schools. Ms. Johnson, a Kent County native, was a witness to those early days of integration, and she shares some of her memories with us today.
Midday is grateful to Robert Ingersoll, Barbara Foster, Bill Leary and the rest of the Sumner Hall staff and volunteers for their generous support and assistance with today's broadcast.
Video of this program will be posted to WYPR's Facebook page early Wednesday.