"It kind of made for a positive experience because everyone who was here wanted to be," Lordi said.

Despite the district's assessment that the school's academic performance wasn't up to par, it had met state targets several years in a row for the number of its students passing the high school assessments.

But Gordon acknowledged that some of the school's data, such as its 60th-percentile attendance rates, were "in the toilet." And she couldn't stand in the way of a promise for better opportunities for Cherry Hill.

"I'm not in denial," she said. "We had challenges."

Other schools that closed Wednesday say data that the school system used to make its decisions did not reflect challenges they overcame.

Baltimore Freedom Academy, a charter school, learned in March that this school year would be its last, when the board voted to deny its license renewal.

Khalilah Harris, who helped open the school in 2003, said she left as executive director in April because she "could not watch something that I tried to build up be taken apart."

BFA pushed back against the system's charter renewal report, arguing that the process was flawed and that the district viewed the school through a narrow lens.

"Our school was punished for not playing the game to get [students] to pass these tests so that people could leave us alone and do the work that we should be doing, which is cultivating learning," Harris said.

Still, she reflected on fond memories from the first open house in 2003 to the first graduating class in 2007.

"Very early on, we felt like we were engaging in raising children," Harris said. "These [families] were agreeing to turn their kids over to us like they were handing their children over to family … to people who would look beyond numbers and letters and really help them flourish."

As a staff member and a parent of a BFA student, Rashawna Sydnor's concerns were three-fold as the end of the year drew near. She worried about her daughter, who will have to graduate from another school next year, her students, who could be deprived of the attention they so desperately need, and where she would find a new job.

"I couldn't focus on myself until I knew she was OK," said Sydnor, who had worked at BFA for one year and found a job at another school next year. "I figured that if the school board decided this wasn't the best place for her, she would need to be at the best."

Her daughter Pahge George was placed at City College, in what Sydnor called a smooth school-choice process for students.

While Pahge is looking forward to the move, she harbors some resentment about what spurred it.

"Relationships are everything," said Pahge. "What they didn't show in the report was how a teacher could take a student who hated school, who didn't want to come, and now they're on the top of their class. It's just not right."

That student, Pahge said, is her best friend, Shayna Ray. Shayna went from a "wild kid" to encouraging everyone to choose to go to City — finding herself the only one who didn't get in and sent instead to the lower-performing Patterson High School.

To cope with the disappointment, she will apply the most important lesson she learned from BFA.

"I'm not accepting Patterson, I want better," she said. "City is better. If I don't get in, I know I tried my hardest. It's sad, but you just have to suck it up."

The feeling is shared by staff members who will also leave BFA.

"The end of an era at BFA is bittersweet to me, full of accomplishment, disappointment and unfulfilled potential," said Corey Gaber, who had been affiliated with the school since 2007, the last two years as a teacher.

Gaber recalled how he watched students grow from shy self-doubters to fierce advocates and powerful public speakers and mentors.

But he also described a school recently where students were increasingly in upheaval and staff experienced "a revolving door of school leadership and a complete lack of support from North Avenue until the fate of our school was already sealed."

"There are better schools than BFA in Baltimore City," Gaber said. "There are also worse schools than BFA, even in its current iteration. Students with committed adult advocates in their life will likely end up in a better situation. Others will lose the peer support networks and strong relationships they've formed with teachers and will arrive at similarly chaotic, non-academic environments as the one they're leaving now."

erica.green@baltsun.com

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