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RSD offers assistance for student transfers as board relinquishes charter

Sojourner Truth Academy will close after the current school year due to low academic performance, the school’s board said during its monthly meeting, Nov. 29.

Addressing a packed house that included teachers, students, parents and media, Board President Robert Burvant said a representative from the Recovery School District informed the board that it will recommend to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education that Sojourner’s charter not be extended for the 2012-2013 school year.

The board then voted to voluntarily turn in the school’s charter.

“RSD will work with all the students affected and will grant all STA students priority status to its affiliated schools for the next school year,” Burvant said, reading from a letter from RSD. “RSD also promises to help STA staff in their efforts for hiring and employment to other charter organizations.”

“This board is committed to making sure students at Sojourner Truth finish the year strongly,” Burvant said.

Prinicpal Reginald Flenory Sr.’s monthly school performance report underscored the challenges Sojourner Truth Academy faced.

According to the report, the 247-student school continues to be plagued by truancy, as evident in the school’s 87.5 percent attendance rate. He said 174 students are in danger of not receiving credit for one or more classes, and there were more student withdrawals (119) than new students (109) for the current academic year.

Disciplinary referrals were down by 75 percent, from 348 in 2010 to 89 in 2011, but that good news was offset by the recent suspension of 10 students, mostly seniors.

Suspended senior Romenesha Herbert was among those who described the event that led to the disciplinary action: “All 10 of us sat at a table in the cafeteria singing gospel songs after we had finished our assessment tests last Thursday. … We weren’t banging on the tables or yelling or anything and no one told us to keep quiet,” said Herbert, expressing dismay over the punishment. “The next day  we were told we could not go to the dance and given a one day suspension for being disrespectful and dancing provocatively.”

Two of the 10 suspended students received two-day suspensions and were not present at the meeting.

In an interview with The Lens, Flenory rejected the students’ claims and said that, while he was an “old school, no nonsense kind of guy,” he was not a fan of “suspending students for every infraction.”

“They did not listen to the warnings on Thursday and continued to disrupt on Friday…. They got suspended for their actions and have not repeated the same offense since,” he said.

The meeting concluded with several members of the public voicing concerns, and in some cases, accusing the board of not fighting for the school.

Marika Barto, an Algebra I teacher, said she was unhappy that all the hard work put in by faculty would be vain if the school closed.

“I would just like to let it be known that when the report goes back to the parents, it should say that we all gave up and did not fight,” she said.

Board member Charline Gipson offered a  rebuttal to an accusation by an audience member that the board too readily relinquished STA’s charter.

“This board absolutely has nothing to be ashamed of,” she said. “We have done our absolute best for the students since the inception of this school,” Gipson said. “And I am personally offended by the accusation.”

The meeting was adjourned at 7:15 p.m.

The next board meeting is Dec. 20.

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