Residential Charter School for Teen Mothers to Close

Troubled charter school provides a haven for girls who struggle with the challenges that come with being both a high school student and a new mother.
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

M any of them are from schools where they felt taunted, stressed, overwhelmed by the thicket of challenges that come with being both a high school student and a new mother.

For Tequila Green, 18, MEI Futures Academy was a haven, a one-of-a-kind D.C. residential charter school where she could wake up with her 2-year-old daughter in a dorm-style room, have breakfast in the cafeteria and drop her at the on-site nursery before her first class of the day.

"I thought this was a good place," Green said. "We're around other girls that are going through the same things we're going through."

But a vision that once seemed so promising will flicker out next month. The D.C. Public Charter School Board, citing persistent academic and operating problems, revoked MEI's charter at its April meeting. The school, housed in the former Masonic and Eastern Star nursing home on New Hampshire Avenue NE, will close in June.

"The idea was wonderful. I wish very much it had succeeded," said board member Dora Marcus. It was the second time this year that a charter school created for a high-need, hard-to-reach student population has collapsed. City Lights, which served about 75 students with serious emotional and learning disabilities, relinquished its charter and closed in February.

The board, responsible for overseeing the District's 59 publicly funded and independently operated schools, had revoked only three other charters since its inception in 1996. All three -- Southeast Academy, New School for Enterprise and Development and Sasha Bruce -- had financial, academic or management issues but remained open for at least five years. (Four other schools, including City Lights, chose to give up their charters rather than go through the revocation process). MEI has been open for just two years.

As with City Lights, the reasons for its demise are in dispute.

Executive director Aminiyah Muhammad-M'Backe said the school needed more time to reach students who had in many cases dropped off the social grid, leaving school and moving in and out of the judicial system.

"This population is hard," said Muhammad-M'Backe. "People don't want to talk about teenage mothers who are oppositional, defiant, not ashamed of having had babies. They are not on anyone's statistical page. Everyone wants great data. They don't give you the outcome data you want in short order."

Staff members contend that the school has made significant strides and that the board's revocation was unfairly abrupt compared with the forbearance extended to other struggling schools.

"It was on its way, starting to flip, you know? Flip in the right direction," said guidance counselor Cheryl Reinhardt. "This should have been saved."

According to outside audits, interviews and staff reports, MEI lacked a coherent curriculum for its 50 students, with just two on track to graduate this spring. Last year, not one of the 15 10th-graders who took the DC-CAS standardized test achieved proficiency in reading or math.

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