Below is the letter submitted to the Board of Commissioners for Baltimore City Public Schools in response to the recommendation to close Renaissance Academy.
Chairman Cooper and Commissioners,
The recommendation to close Renaissance Academy is a short-sighted decision which would have a detrimental impact on its current students, their families, and the surrounding community.
Renaissance Academy, like any other high school, has its challenges. The program operates on the third floor of 1301 McCulloh Street. Booker T. Washington Middle School for the Arts currently uses the first two floors. With approximately 320 students enrolled, Renaissance is bursting at the seams.
The proposal to relocate Augusta Fells Savage to this space, a program with 50% more students, just doesn’t make sense. Part of the justification for this relocation is the opportunity for two art-centric schools (Booker T. Washington and Augusta Fells Savage) to partner with the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). I checked in with the President and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at MICA and discovered that they were not yet aware of this partnership idea. Thus, in my opinion, this is a lofty assumption.
When confronted with the fact that the third floor could not possibly house Augusta Fells Savage’s current population, BCPS Officials indicated they would take space from Booker T. Washington on the first two floors, which seems to contradict the BCPS belief that middle and high school populations should not be mixed.
BCPS has indicated that the school has “climate challenges.” This comes as no surprise considering the school resides in a neighborhood that is widely considered one of the most poverty stricken in our City. In addition, BCPS is committed to serving high-risk students and providing them with supportive services so that students are available for academic achievement. For example, the school is using Restorative Practices and male mentoring for African-American boys, strategies which are identified by BCPS as best practices to improve school climate.
Here is what the school also has–the only Homeland Security CTE program in the entire City. It has approximately 50 students set to have three of four required CTE credits by the end of the school year when it is slated to close. BCPS has not given any indication of whether it will install the Homeland Security CTE program in another school in the system. With the transfer of these credits to another CTE program being extremely onerous, BCPS’s recommendation threatens to throw out all of this hard work and commitment from these 50 students.
Promise Heights (an initiative under the University of Maryland, School of Social Work) has invested significant resources in this school. What should strike this Board as odd, is the fact that the CEO’s Office had no idea that Promise Heights had a full-time community school coordinator (who is a licensed social worker) staffed to this school for the past year, and has been providing pro bono support for the past two and a half years. Promise Heights has provided unparalleled support to the students and the surrounding community, in ways that BCPS is unable to. The qualitative impact of this program cannot be overstated. For example, in Spring of 2015, Promise Heights provided funding for after school programming for 80 male students, and an additional 60 students in the Summer of 2015 in a 9th grade bridge program.
In closing, Renaissance Academy is on the upswing and continues to make progress every day in preparing high-risk students to be adults and have promising careers. It would be nothing short of a tragedy to close this school.
If you have questions, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-813-1457.
Eric T. Costello
Baltimore City Council, 11th District
Honorable Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Honorable City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young
Honorable Senator Catherine Pugh
Honorable Delegate Frank Conaway, Jr.
Honorable Delegate Antonio Hayes
Honorable Delegate Barbara Robinson
J. Bellido de Luna, BCPS Board Executive
Rachel Donegan, Promise Heights Program Director
Bronwyn Mayden, University of Maryland, School of Social Work, Assistant Dean
Andrew Smullian, Deputy Mayor for Government Relations and Labor
Dr. Gregory Thornton, BCPS CEO
Dawana Sterrette, BCPS Legislative Liaison