Founder of Banneker Blake Academy in Baltimore vows appeal of school's closure

The founder of East Baltimore’s Banneker Blake Academy on Tuesday night vowed to appeal the city school board’s decision to close the all-boys public charter school that models itself on successful prep schools.

Carl Stokes — the school’s founder and a former city councilman, school board member and mayoral candidate — told parents assembled in the school’s cafeteria that he would file an appeal with the state’s Board of Education within days.

While acknowledging that Banneker Blake outperforms its peer schools academically, city school officials nevertheless voted last week to close the charter school because of administrative problems in the delivery of services to special education students.

Stokes has argued that the administrative concerns can be fixed and shouldn’t result in the closure of a school that is succeeding academically for black boys.

Last week, more than 200 students, parents and supporters of the school packed the school board meeting at North Avenue — filling two overflow rooms — but the boys were not allowed to voice their support for their school.

“We’re ready to go to the state, because we think the pathway is very clear,” Stokes said. “The students have been very upset. Our parents have been very upset. The students have said, ‘Mr. Stokes, why won’t they let us talk? Why won’t they let us tell about our school?’ They feel like they are being thrown aside.”

Stokes points to a school system analysis that showed Banneker Blake ranked in the 81st percentile of similar schools in math and the 84th percentile for English. It has partnered with Morgan State University to bring in tutors for the boys.

An eighth-grader at the school named Joshua Jones said he’s learned a lot about “math, linear equations and how to make robots” at the school, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. The boys are required to wear maroon blazers and ties to school, and must address adults as “sir” and “ma’am.”

“The teachers are great,” Jones said. “The staff treat us well. It’s terrible the city public school system want to shut the school down. There’s so much more room for growth at this school, but the CEO is shutting it down while we’re working our way up.”

The city’s school board chairwoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Anne Fullerton, spokeswoman for the city school system, said in an email that Banneker Blake’s problems are deeper than Stokes describes.

“Far from being minor administrative problems, these issues constitute a documented, ongoing pattern of mismanagement lasting now for at least 18 months that both jeopardizes the school’s ability to provide a high-quality education — particularly for students with disabilities — and puts the district at risk for failing to adhere to state and federal law,” she Fullerton wrote. “While the charter review and renewal process allows for appeal to the state, we are confident that, given the seriousness of these issues, the Board of Commissioners’ vote to close the school will be upheld.”

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