City schools begin mobilizing, meeting to fight upcoming closure recommendations

A West Baltimore school that was highlighted locally and nationally for rallying around its student body amid the April unrest in the city is now rallying to save its school from closing.

The Renaissance Academy High School, the only high school in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood, will hold an emergency community meeting Thursday night after it was informed that it was on the list of city schools recommended to close its doors at the end of the school year.

"This would be a devastating loss to our students, families, and community," wrote Hallie Atwater, who serves as community schools coordinator for the school through the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Promise Heights.

Renaissance Academy was featured nationally, and in The Baltimore Sun this past spring for its efforts to help students process, digest and recover back from the unrest that gripped the city -- especially their neighborhood --  following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of injuries he sustained while in police custody.

Renaissance Academy is located 1.3 miles from where Gray was arrested.

Just last week, the school's unique and successful mentoring program, which has been helping overage, underaccredited and often traumatized black male student population, was the subject of an in-depth National Public Radio segment.

The community will meet at Douglas Memorial Community Church 1325 Madison Ave., at 5:00 PM, to discuss the potential closure and organize to protest a closure at the next school board meeting.

"Closing schools hurt our children," a flier advertising the meeting said. "Turn out to stop this injustice."

City school officials declined to comment on the possible Renaissance closure, saying that no details about school closure recommendations will be made public until the Nov. 10 school board meeting.

The recommendations will be part of a school portolio review that is done annually in the district and usually sees several schools facing closure, relocation or expansion. 

A spokeswoman for the district stressed that no recommendation is final until it is presented to the city school board -- meaning the recommendation could be pulled off the table.

"School communities affected by the portfolio review will receive information about specific recommendations related to their schools on November 10," the district wrote in a statement. "Other communication (legal notice, robocalls, etc.) will roll out on the usual schedule, per Board and Comar policies and requirements," school officials said in a statement."

However, other schools are also receiving word of disruptions that are to come as a result of the recommendations.

In a letter to parents, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, the principal of Independence School Local #1 told the school community that it could face a mid-year disruption, as the school may be recommended to relocate in January. A meeting on the recommendation was held Wednesday evening.

Atwater and others verify that Renaissance is on the chopping block, and the impact is already being felt.

That's because the reason the school is targeted -- "low performing and climate issues" --couldn't be any more overly simplistic, Atwater explained, and comes at a time when the public is realizing that educating the city's youth is a complicated.

The school serves a population that is two-thirds male, many of whom have had brushes with the juvenile justice system, and struggle with homelesness and struggling with violence.

And the school's principal wouldn't have it any other way, Atwater said.

"Principal Rowe purposefully accepts students disengaged from every other school in our city," Atwater wrote in an email to the community.

"She literally seeks out and convinces kids to return to school, convinces them that their lives do not have to be confined to a street corner, the courtyard of a housing project, a cell, or a coffin. She gets them across the stage."

We know that the challenges facing our students are deep, layered, and crushing in nature. Many are in a persistent and constant state of pain and stress with no idea of how to release the pressure. Many are teetering recklessly on the edge of hopelessness. Their behaviors reflect this reality. This reality is reflected in our attendance, school climate, and academic performance data.

She continued: We know this and we ask ourselves constantly… What does success look like for this neighborhood, this school, and these students?

"Our answer is, to start, that success for this neighborhood, this school, and these students means creating a place of mental and physical safety through the formation and duration of deep interpersonal relationships. We cannot skip this step."

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