On Thursday, June 16, about 20 people had gathered inside the halls of Catherine Ferguson Academy. We were awaiting the beginning of the rally to lock our arms around CFA, insisting the school remain open. The atmosphere was subdued. Actor Danny Glover had arrived. He was talking with students, holding babies, signing autographs and having pictures taken. He met quietly with teachers and students, assuring them that they were not alone. He knew that people around the country supported them and looked to them as an example of the kind of education every child needed and deserved.
The Principal, Asenath Andrews, had been called to the office of the Emergency Financial Manager, Roy Roberts. No one knew what that meant. Then people started getting text messages and emails. Roberts had called a press conference. He was announcing that CFA would stay open. They had found a charter to take it over.
This news was greeted with skepticism and concern. People wondered if it was true. If so, what did a charter mean?
It was not until Principal Andrews arrived that the mood shifted from concern to celebration. She gathered the staff, students and babies into the auditorium and said that Roy Roberts had told her the school would stay open. Blair Evans of the Detroit-based Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy charter would take over and that everything would continue. She acknowledged that many questions remained, she hoped that the majority of staff would stay with the school and summer session would go as planned.
Despite all the questions , there was great relief and hope. Evans is well-known by CFA. He accompanied the group to South Africa. He is committed to ideas of urban agriculture and has worked with Will Allen of Growing Power in Milwaukee. Evans came to the school saying he was glad they had “found a solution to what was becoming not just a local but a national and international concern.”
The rally shifted to a celebration of sorts, tempered with the uncertainty about the move to a charter, the role of unionized teachers, the fate of those who had resisted the closure and the outstanding charges against staff and teachers who had refused to leave the building earlier. Everyone felt we had achieved a victory. No one thought the fight was over. All of us realized this was a first, beginning step.
We should not minimize what was achieved last Thursday. As Asenath Andrews said from the back of the hay wagon serving as a rally stage in front of the school, “There are so many people to thank.”
The students who organized to keep their school open did most of the speaking. This is their victory. It should inspire them and others to know what they accomplished. The UAW was out in force, standing nearly 200 strong around the crowd. This is yet another sign that the new leadership of Bob King is reinvigorating the UAW and restoring its connection to vital community issues. Hundreds of community activists had mobilized networks spreading the word. Rachel Maddow helped make the case a national cause. Roy Roberts was flooded with letters, emails and phone calls protesting the closure of one of the best schools anywhere in the country.
It is important for us to know that we achieved a victory. Just 4 days later Roy Roberts, announced the creation of something called an Education Achievement System. While details are still coming out, this new “authority” will take over all schools performing in the lowest 5% of standardized tests. The range of this new authority is just beginning to unfold. But the rationale for it is based on the same kind of shortsighted thinking that led to the decision to close CFA.
That was a decision that never should have been made. We suspect the same of the new authority.