- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - A school that served generations of pregnant and parenting teens in Detroit is closing at the end of this month.

The Catherine Ferguson Academy for Young Women has received national attention for the services it provided mothers and for its award-winning farm, where students cared for animals and grew produce.

But the spotlight wasn’t enough to combat falling enrollment. The school board decided last month to end its contract with the board of Wayne RESA, the agency that authorizes the academy.

“They don’t have the enrollment to sustain the school,” Steve Ezikian, deputy superintendent for Wayne RESA, told the Detroit Free Press (https://on.freep.com/1pFFJOA ). Wayne RESA agreed that it needed to close, he said.

In 2009, when Catherine Ferguson was still part of Detroit Public Schools, it had 288 students. But by fall 2012, one year after becoming a charter school, enrollment had dropped to 179, according to data from the state Center for Educational Performance and Information. In fall 2013, the enrollment was 119.

A statement released by the school board put current enrollment at 92 full-time students, which “makes it fiscally impossible to continue to operate.” It attributed the decline to shifting demographics.

Officials said they will work with students to help ease their transitions to other schools. DPS has authorized a new charter school that will serve a similar population and is to open this fall.

Catherine Ferguson is unique in that it has a day care and preschool programming, allowing girls to come to class without having to worry about child care.

Students learned of the closure about two weeks ago, said senior Shakoya Edwards, 17.

“A lot of girls were hurt by it,” she said. “If we’re not bringing our children to school, what if we have nobody to watch our child?”

Catherine Ferguson has narrowly avoided closure more than once. When DPS said that it planned to shutter the school in 2011 because it was too costly to operate, students and community members loudly protested. Wayne RESA developed a plan to keep the school open by having it become part of Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy, an existing charter school that operates multiple campuses in Detroit.

Because Blanche Kelso operates strict discipline academies, Catherine Ferguson students needed a court referral to attend. That was a turnoff for some girls, Ezikian said.

In 2013, Catherine Ferguson was split from Blanche Kelso and became a separate charter school, still authorized by Wayne RESA.

In June of that year, current and former students and a teacher filed a federal lawsuit claiming that Catherine Ferguson students were getting an inferior education under charter management. The case is pending.

A revised budget posted on Catherine Ferguson’s website provides a snapshot of its financial troubles. The original budget for the current school year estimated the school would receive $1.6 million in state aid - money that is based on enrollment. But the revised budget put the state aid for the school year at $1.2 million.

Overall, revenue was down from an estimated $3 million when the budget was adopted to $2.5 million in the revised budget. State law requires websites for charter schools and school districts to post budgets adopted by their boards, as well as any subsequent revisions. It’s unclear when the budget revision was posted.

Catherine Ferguson’s farm sold its products and gained national attention after being featured on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and in O magazine.

In spring 2013, it was in the spotlight again after five chickens and eight goats were found dead. The Michigan Humane Society said the animals’ injuries were consistent with dog bites.

On Tuesday afternoon, Shakoya pushed her 8-month-old daughter, Mila O’Neal, in a covered stroller as she walked from Catherine Ferguson to a bus stop two blocks away. She said the school, which her mother also attended, has provided her much-needed support.

She wishes it would stay open.

“What are teen parents going to do now?” she said.


Information from: Detroit Free Press, https://www.freep.com

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