Submitted to the AFRO by Terry Jones
If Monarch Academy Baltimore, a Baltimore City public charter school, is closed, Baltimore students will lose a safe, beautiful place to learn.
Monarch educates nearly 1,000 students from some of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods. The school’s campus offers a clean, renovated building, with up-to-date security, while many Baltimore City schools offer students old, run-down, rat-infested facilities, without working heating systems.
Monarch provides strong academic and special education programs and also offers quality mental health support to its students. This is critical to helping disadvantaged students learn, as many of the school’s students have suffered trauma in the past.
What is more, Monarch has become a hub of the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood. Monarch invested $15.5 million in the vacant and deteriorated Coca-Cola bottling plant on Kirk Avenue to create the existing state-of-the-art school building that includes bright murals on nearly every wall that tell the story of Baltimore City. The students respect the artwork and appreciate the light and colors that fill the hallways, which make learning not only easier, but also fun. The school has continued its work to revitalize the neighborhood by helping the community at large. For example, it serves as a host for Hungry Harvest, a low-cost fresh fruit and vegetable program. It also launched an initiative to purchase vacant homes in the area, fully renovate them and offer them to our families, teachers and community members at below-market prices to help stabilize and reinvigorate the neighborhood.
Monarch educates the whole child and knows that children’s progress is measured by more than a test score. It is clearly committed to the children and families that it serves, as well as to the community. To close the school now would ignore the investment Monarch is making on behalf of our students.
Monarch has seen student success—especially in students who have attended the school for two years or more. With a continued focus on math and reading literacy, whole-brain teaching and standards-based practices, Monarch will position our students to continue to grow in academic achievement.
Monarch offers programs in robotics, dance, drama, jazz band, step team, chorus, soccer, basketball and lacrosse and continually expands its extracurricular and enrichment opportunities. These programs allow Monarch to guarantee after-school activities during the critical window between 3 and 7 p.m. when children are most vulnerable. By partnering with the local YMCA, Monarch offers a before- and after-school program where these children have a safe place to learn, play and eat healthy snacks. The school even provides citywide bus transportation.
Families choose Monarch because of its strong reputation from gifted learners to children with special education needs plus the school’s enhanced social services, amazing facilities, great teachers and administrators and citywide school bus service. Because of this, Monarch is at capacity, and in many years, there is a waiting list for families to enroll their children in the school.
Is Baltimore City Public Schools really going to harm Monarch’s families and take these resources away? The school system bases its decision to close schools on assessment results, which are losing credibility due to racial and socio-economic biases. If the school system closes Monarch, three out of four kids will be shipped to poor performing schools. For Monarch parents, it means more safety concerns and fears that their children will not receive proper mental health care and struggle to graduate high school, let alone get into college.
The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners is charged with considering and voting on the recommendation to close Monarch. But right now, the school’s parents are marching and speaking out because they understand the stakes of the board’s decision.
I am confident the board takes their responsibility seriously and wants the best for our children. I implore them to consider the students of Monarch and their families when reaching a resolution. I recommend that the board takes a broader perspective toward assessing schools and re-examines what success means beyond outdated and racially-biased assessment exams.
Consider other data. Monarch Academy Baltimore students who have been with the school for three years or more, for example, outperform students of less than three years. Further, in each of the last three years, national iReady scores show the number of students achieving grade-level performance in reading and math moved from less than 10 percent in the fall to over 20 percent in the spring. Closing the school now would be to turn our backs right as students are gaining traction.
Monarch students say the school has become a home to them and view their teachers and classmates as family. Monarch is an asset to the city and can continue to be an asset if provided with the opportunity. The board should not just save the school; it should prioritize partnering with ambitious charter schools like Monarch.
The board must save Monarch Academy Baltimore because so much is at stake for its parents and students.
Terry Jones is a member of the Monarch Academy Baltimore Parent Advisory Board.