School for Pregnant and Parenting Teens in Detroit, Michigan Wins Victory
A protest of the closing of the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a Detroit school for pregnant teens, became a victory celebration. Actor Danny Glover speaks as Dalisha Thomas, 17, with daughter Kendall, listens. / REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press
BY CHASTITY PRATT DAWSEY
Tiffani Baldwin stood in a courtroom earlier this week waiting to be arraigned on charges from an April sit-in at her former school, Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant teens and teen parents.
On Thursday, the civil disobedience — and that of two current students and a teacher — paid off.
After weeks of local and national outcry, Detroit Public Schools announced that Ferguson — and two alternative schools that teach expelled students — will become part of an existing charter school company.
Ferguson will keep its name and current location. Students from the other two schools will be absorbed into current charter schools and the alternative schools will lose their names.
Baldwin, now a 19-year-old Henry Ford Community College student, said she’s facing a trespassing charge because she feels the school is too important to close. She said the staff enriched her life and taught her how to take care of her daughter, now 3.
“I learned how to be self-sustainable, I learned how to grow food,” said Baldwin, who traveled to South Africa with Ferguson classmates last year.
Only half of teen mothers have a high school diploma by age 22, according to the National Women’s Law Center.
The acclaimed school, once featured in the Oprah Magazine, graduates 90% of its students, and all of them are accepted to college.
It serves students in grades seven to 12. Their children remain in the school during the day in child care or a preschool.
Ferguson students tend to an award-winning urban garden on its campus. There’s a horse, rabbits, chickens and a barn powered by a windmill and solar panels on the roof.
Ferguson was designated a Breakthrough High School in 2004 — one of just 12 recognized by the National Association of Secondary School Principals for outstanding achievement among schools with high poverty rates.
DPS said the three schools are too costly to run. DPS has an emergency manager, a $327-million deficit and a deficit-elimination action plan that includes closing or chartering half its existing schools.
It is unclear what will happen to DPS teachers from the three alternative schools. All DPS employees were laid off as part of the budgeting process, effective July 29.
As a charter school, Ferguson will no longer be part of DPS, but it will be open to any qualifying student who wants to attend, officials said.
Ferguson will become part of the existing Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy charter school run by a Detroit-based company, Evans Solutions.
The company has operated charter schools for more than a decade at eight Detroit sites, serving students who have been expelled, arrested, abused or homeless. One site is in a detention center, said Blair Evans, chief administrative officer for Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy.
The new charter agreement with DPS means Ferguson’s 250 students will have more resources, and the principal — who will remain — will have more authority over the budget and hiring, according to school officials.
G. Asenath Andrews, the principal since Ferguson opened 27 years ago, said she was on the brink of tears all week as she boxed up her office to prepare to leave the school forever.
“I am relieved, excited and pleased,” she said.
Alternative schools in deal
DPS‘s new agreement with the Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy means students from two other alternative schools will be transferred to the charter school‘s existing facilities.
Barsamian Preparatory Center, an alternative high school, and Hancock Preparatory Center, an alternative K-8 school, teach students who have been expelled for up to a year for serious offenses, including assault and bringing a weapon to class.
Without an option, their parents would be required to find a private school willing to take the expelled students. Or the students would have to stay out of school until the expulsions expired.
DPS planned to close the schools because they are expensive to operate — Ferguson’s total cost including facilities operations is $12,619 per student. Barsamian costs $35,636 per pupil and Hancock $31,689, according to DPS spokesman Steve Wasko.
About 300 students passed through Barsamian last year and about 117 attended Hancock, according to staff.
DPS receives about $7,600 per pupil in state funding. It received an additional estimated $500 million in state and federal grant funds — or $6,800 per student — for its 73,000 students, according to DPS‘s amended 2010-11 budget.
‘It’s a victory’
A rally planned at Ferguson for Thursday — the last day of school — turned into a celebration. Actor and activist Danny Glover spoke. A marching band played.
“It’s a victory,” said Shanta Driver, attorney for the arrested protesters and an organizer with By Any Means Necessary, the group that planned the protests. “It’s a victory for everyone that stands for social justice.”
DPS officials also backed down from plans to close two other alternative schools this year — the Day School for the Deaf and Moses Field special education school for severely impaired students.
So far, decisions have been made to charter five other schools in the fall and close 20 buildings through 2012.
One of the affected schools is Carstens Elementary, a high-achieving school in a poor, mostly vacant block on the east side. Threats to close the school last year led to a public outcry that saved it.
But enrollment did not rebound this year. The school will relocate to Remus Robinson Academy’s building 1.5 miles away and will take the Carstens name.