Baltimore City school board votes to keep Collegiate School for Boys open

Published 2/28/2023 11:26 p.m. EST, Updated 3/1/2023 7:13 a.m. EST

Baltimore City Public Schools bus.

After being deadlocked a week ago on whether to close an all-boys charter school, the Baltimore City school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to give the school another chance.

Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys won another three-year approval to operate under a long list of conditions that would allow city school leaders to decide to close the school anytime in the next several years.

“I feel relief for those boys and families we serve. We believe we will meet every condition,” said Edwin Avent, president of the Five Smooth Stones Foundation that runs the school.

The East Baltimore school, now in its eighth year of operation, removed its founder, hired a more seasoned principal and made other changes in an attempt to keep its charter to operate a school for 325 boys in grades four through eight.

Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises recommended the board approve the extension — with some degree of reluctance. She said the school system would monitor progress, but not offer the previous level of support after serious issues were identified.

“I don’t want there to be any confusion about what that support is going to look like. It will not be swooping down when there is a special ed violation. It will be pointing out the violation,” said Santelises.

The school’s test scores were poor, only three quarters of its teachers are certified, and it had failed to meet federal and state standards for oversight of grants, among many of the issues raised under a review of its operations. The school also had violated special education regulations by not giving students the services they are legally required to provide.

Angela Alvarez, the director of the Office of New Initiatives at the city schools, said her staff will continue to review the school’s progress toward its new goals each year. The charter would only be rescinded, she said, if there was a significant violation.

Some school board members said they changed their vote after visiting the school and reconsidering the community support. Even board member Linda Chinnia, who had begun the discussion saying she was concerned by the poor academic performance, changed her mind and voted for an extension of the charter.

Several members of the public testified in support of the school, including City Council member Odette Ramos.

Ninety percent of the first class to go through the school have graduated from high school, Avent said. “That is the promise we bring to our families,” he said, adding that the hope is that most students will go on to universities like Morehouse College in Atlanta. “This is a victory for those boys and those families.”

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He blamed some of the school’s issues on a teacher and staffing shortage.

Charter schools are privately operated and publicly funded schools that must receive a charter from the school board to operate. The city school board has approved more than 30 charter schools, making oversight a complicated and lengthy process.