By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
Nikkia Rowe, the indefatigable principal of the Renaissance Academy High School, was fired July 7; an action some community and education leaders fear portends the closure of the school, a refuge for children living in one of the most violent and impoverished neighborhoods in Baltimore.
“On July 5th I get a notification that effective on July 7th I’m being terminated because…I had not re-submitted my certification,” Rowe told the AFRO. Rowe contends Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) fired her, a principal with more than a decade of experience, “on a technicality.”
“All of the things that they say you are supposed to do, I did,” said Rowe, who operated as the leader of Renaissance under some of the most challenging circumstances any BCPS principal has been confronted with. “Now, people want to talk about trauma informed care as if they have not realized…for at least the last 10 years in Baltimore City some things have evolved in terms of community support for children, support for families…what’s happening in West Baltimore, particularly where Renaissance is located, we experienced Freddie Gray and the unrest and nothing has changed…there is no real comprehensive change happening. I don’t know if anyone is really concerned for the safety of children,” Rowe added.
The AFRO reached out to Baltimore City Public Schools regarding Rowe’s termination and BCPS did not respond to our request before press time. Allegedly Rowe has been replaced at Renaissance with Tammatha Woodhouse, formerly the principal of Excel [email protected] M. Wood High School in West Baltimore, a school which has grappled with its own history of violence. In 2017, five students who attended the school were murdered.
Since she was hired as principal of Renaissance in July 2013, Rowe has led the school through tragedies and triumph; three young men who attended the school were murdered in 2015, the year of the uprising following the funeral of Freddie Gray. One of them Ananias Jolley, 17, was stabbed to death inside a biology lab at the school.
Rowe also established the Seeds of Promise, a male mentorship program, which provides academic case management and 24/7 social and emotional support for hundreds of young men at the school. The initiative is credited with shepherding many of these young men safely through several catastrophic circumstances.
Steve Bisciotti, the owner of the Baltimore Ravens, recognized the needs of the embattled school and Rowe’s leadership when the Ravens Organization invested $1.5 million for desperately needed renovations for the school, which had been in danger of closing, in 2017. Now that Rowe has been fired, many believe the school, a haven for students and non-students facing perilous circumstances in West Baltimore, is once again in danger of closing.
“The firing of Nikkia Rowe represents the inability of the school system to truly operate from a community centered approach,” Dayvon Love, Director of Public Policy for the Black think tank, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, told the AFRO. “Her blend of a rigorous understanding of a community empowerment framework, her in-depth knowledge of anti-racism, and her strong community ties makes her firing another self inflicted wound to the school system.”
David Miller, a nationally recognized educator and child advocate for more than 20 years, has worked closely with Rowe and the staff at Renaissance. He believes Rowe’s firing will be devastating to many of the students at the school.
“I think the sad reality…I know for a fact a lot of those young men are probably going to drop out,” Miller said. “I spent a considerable amount of time in the building working with the Seeds of Promise staff, developed relationships with those young men…and the only reason those young men were coming to school was because of Nikkia Rowe. She treated those young men as if they were her sons, she treated those young ladies as if they were her daughters.”
Ultimately, few can match Rowe’s passion for the students and staff of Renaissance and the school’s surrounding community.
“I believe that every single child that was at Renaissance is brilliant and capable of high achievement,” Rowe said. “But, the way that our brains work, if you are constantly under stress because of the outside conditions that you are experiencing, then when you come inside then the staff… and the school community within the building has to address those stressors and help you to remove those obstacles so that you are able to show how smart you are.”