The Catherine Ferguson Struggle
— Nina Kampfer
Catherine Ferguson Academy, a school for teen mothers, has been central in controversies surrounding the closures and charters of Detroit’s public schools. Although the cost of $19,000 per student each year is comparable to the cost of educating students at other similar schools, the operational costs, from an Emergency Manager’s perspective, were excessive.
However, the preparation for the futures of CFA students goes far beyond academics. Their curriculum also includes instruction on parenting and the school features a full-scale farm, including a vegetable garden and livestock. The school has a 90% graduation rate, well above the district’s average, and most students go on to college.
Despite its commitment to educating young women with few options, CFA was scheduled to be chartered in June of 2011, or closed if a charter was not secured. In April a group of students and their children along with alumnae and one of their teachers staged a sit-in to keep CFA open as a public school. All of them were arrested, but they put their school in the national spotlight.
Despite outcries of public support, when June came around and no charter agreement had been reached, the school was scheduled to close at the end of the year. A mass rally was scheduled for the day before summer vacation. Shortly before the rally was scheduled to start, principal Asineth Andrews got the call that instead of closing, CFA would remain open as a charter school.
The “saving” of CFA has widely been considered a victory, but at this point its future is unclear. While there is a chance that the school will be able to preserve its existing structure, new forces of power will be able to weigh in on its future. Within the district, students have rights that do not necessarily carry over to charter schools.
For certain, DPS has suffered a great loss. Although DPS’ strengths are not as widely publicized as its shortcomings, CFA was one of many educational programs the district sustained in order to meet the diverse needs of Detroit’s student population. As a charter, the school will continue to collect per-student funding from the state, but will no longer be able to give the back what it takes from the district.
Charterization, like outright school closures, is part of the killing of a major urban school district by a thousand cuts.
September/October 2011, ATC 154