School Spotlight: Catherine Ferguson Academy
By Jan Bennett
During a time of great turbulence in the Detroit Public School System, one school has been cutting through the urban education stigma. The Catherine Ferguson Academy of Detroit, Michigan has become a beacon in the school system’s bleak future. With a budget deficit of $327 million, a declining enrollment and graduation rate among students, CFA has given pregnant teens and teenage mothers a fighting chance at enjoying a promising future. Through a unique approach to education, the Academy has a graduation rate of more than 90 percent, with the young mothers seeking to achieve higher education. The school’s success is attributed to the caring environment provided by the teachers and a driving commitment that is spearheaded by the Academy’s Principal G. Asenath Andrews. In addition to being educated in core school subjects, supplemental lessons are teaching these young mothers so much more than the basics. CFA students are learning about agriculture firsthand through keeping bees, raising farm animals and learning to grow a garden. The staff create an even more fertile educational environment through limiting class sizes and providing free childcare. This progressive school has aided in the success of teenage mothers through providing them an opportunity to become responsible citizens, in addition to getting them one step further to breaking a harrowing cycle.
The school’s success was a quiet, but powerful presence in Detroit until the city’s Emergency Financial Manager, Robert Bobb, put CFA on a list of future public school closings. With this decision darkly looming over the school, the community decided that a peaceful protest was the answer for helping keep this public school mecca alive. After assembling pickets signs, teachers, students and the By Any Means Necessary protest group, the city and our nation began to find out just how important and pivotal this program has become in the community. Some students and teachers, both current and former, were prepared to protest for several days, making accommodations for their children and themselves. However, soon after their protest began the Detroit Police Department asked them to leave the building due to closure. When they did not leave, they were led out in handcuffs where they were arrested, processed and later released.
As this story caught the attention of various news media and forums, it also brought out the support of the UAW, a North American human rights union, and Hollywood actor, Danny Glover, who has been a longtime proponent of the vitality of public schools. Before the rally began, word was received that the school would remain open as a charter school. Mr. Glover was scheduled to be the feature speaker during the rally protesting the Academy’s closing and was adamant that education was a right for all, not an entitlement to a few. Although the school staying open is a wonderful thing, it is still not out of the woods. Due to the nature of charter schools being privatized, changes can be made to the curriculum, having a different outcome for future students. Many would like to see the school stay in the public school domain, but for now they see the open state of the school as a small victory.
To date, CFA plans to open the new school year on September 6, 2011, and has a few new tools to utilize in its educational efforts. Under the new charter company, the Academy will have access to new green house construction, solar energy projects, permaculture education, in addition to other educational tools. Principal Andrews remains committed to the future of the girls and the school and believes this is a “win-win” situation. You can read more about the school’s transformation on The Detroit News.
With the budget deficits consistently growing and the murky tides of our national economics having no ebb, schools around the nation continue to face the threat of closure. Funds for public schools are becoming more commonplace throughout our communities. Are supplanting public schools with charter schools the answer to providing our children with a quality education, and if so what are the ramifications that might be foreseen? If you have been impacted in any way by charter schools, we invite you to communicate your comments, thoughts or ideas.
Throughout the month of August, State of the Re:Union will be featuring transformational schools that are enhancing the community around them.