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Monarch Academy Baltimore students, staff fight against recommended closure

Posted at 6:42 PM, Nov 20, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 07:17:26-05

Over 200 students, faculty and staff from Monarch Academy Baltimore marched nearly a mile this afternoon all the way to Baltimore City Schools headquarters, chanting things like, 'We got grit. We don't quit.' They want to make their voices heard after City Schools recommended not renewing their charter at the end of this school year. Students would have to find new schools for next year. From Janiya Newman, that's a big change for her 8th grade year. 

"It would feel like I would lose my family. Like I would go somewhere else and I'd be alone. I'd be broken," Newman said. 

City Schools says a renewal review found Monarch is one of the lowest performing schools academically. Using PARCC scores, they found the school in Northeast Baltimore was ineffective in almost every academic area. The school's principal Kiara Hargrove says the test scores don't fully measure their progress. Many of the 1,000 students come from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

"They have to be ready to learn. They come to us with so many issues and trauma and what they do when they come to Monarch, they leave it at the door. They know they are loved," Hargrove said. 

The review also found the schools is out of compliance in delivering required services for students with disabilities. The school's chief of strategy and innovation Duane Arbogast says the review looked at the individual plans for 10 students, which are pages of things teachers are supposed to do for students with special needs. Things like evidence that they talked about transition services or programming for the summer. Arbogast says if even one of those boxes is not checked, the review will say that they are not compliant. He says they don't believe they have committed a substantial violation. 

Hargrove says the recommendation came as a complete shock to their progress. 

"We were actually able to see tremendous growth in our students who were coming in below grade level to increasing those grade levels, going from maybe 2 grade levels behind to one grade level behind," Hargrove said. 

Just last month, the academy launched a revitalization initiative with the Coldstream Homestead Montebello Community Corp. to buy, renovate and resell vacant row homes near the school to provide affordable housing opportunities. The first home should be finished in a few weeks and the partnership will continue even if the school gets closed but the executive director of the corp says it will no longer be able to do what it was designed for. 

"The premise upon which we started was to in fact house families of students who were house families of students who were housing insecure, staff so they could be closer to work, as well as faculty," Mark Washington said. 

Those who rallied today are asking for the Board of School Commissioners to hear their voices before voting on their future. 

"Some say the building at 2525 Kirk Ave is just a school but to many of us, it's a home away from home," student Kamilah Chase said. 

In total, City Schools recommended 6 schools be closed or not renewed. Monarch School officials will be presenting tonight at the charter operator work session and then the board will hold several public hearings before they have to vote on the recommendations in the beginning of January.