One week after President Barack Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation recognizing May 2 – May 8 as National Charter Schools Week, the only African– centered public school in the state of Florida – a charter school — is in a battle for its life.
Joseph Littles–Nguzo Saba Charter School, located in Riviera Beach, just outside West Palm Beach, is fighting to retain its charter.
In a school board meeting set for May 12, Art Johnson, superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County, is set to recommend to the school board that the school’s charter be terminated, effective June 30. An informal hearing is set for May 12 as well, prior to the official school board meeting.
The district initially notified the school in February of the superintendent’s intentions, but recently sent the school’s attorney an amended notification, further expounding on his grounds for termination. Although the recent letter is more expansive, in both letters, the superintendent cites the school’s financial troubles and its failure to meet academic standards as the reason he wants to revoke the charter.
Amefika Geuka, founder of the school, said he hopes the community will show its support. “A best-case scenario is that we have a massive show of support for this school and what this school is attempting to do for black children. We do want a show of support at the hearing. I mean massive,” Geuka said.
The hearing is set for Wednesday, May 12 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. And although supporters will not be allowed to speak during the hearing, they can sign up to speak at the official school board meeting later that afternoon.
“It would certainly help if we had a substantial turn out, willing to express support for our school and its mission and purpose,” he added.
Many supporters say they believe the school district should have a vested interest in keeping the school afloat.
“Ours is the only African-centered public school in the state of Florida. Why would you want to close the only public school in the state that has an opportunity to address these children on their own terms?” Geuka said.
He said he has been told the superintendent wants to terminate the charter because the school is in financial distress, it owes debts, and it has not met academic goals. The school has been given a “D” grade consistently since 2004.
Geuka admits the school has financial woes and is in debt, however, he states that he, his wife, and the school’s principal, have all utilized their own personal funds to keep the school afloat.
“We have pointed out, that if you analyze what we’ve been doing with the student demographic that we get, the “D” that we get with those children is fully equal to a “B” or an “A” at other schools,” Geuka explained.
He says 90 percent of the student population is considered intellectually unteachable or has behavioral problems.
“Add to that, we’re under-resourced, inadequately housed – so if we can take these children – under these circumstances, and not get an “F,” it’s a miracle,” he said.
Principal Delores Smart said the school accepts many students who have been forced to leave the regular schools. For many, Nguzo Saba is their final hope.
Geuka says he doesn’t make excuses for their predicament, but he wants the district to recognize the school’s successes.
The 11-year-old K-8 school follows the curriculum of the school district, but infuses African-centered studies.
Louis Jean Baptiste, a first-generation Haitian-American, says he was a “problem child” until he enrolled there. He became a student leader and went on to graduate from high school in three years. He is now an honors student at Florida A & M University with a 3.8 GPA.
Parent Tange Henry said that since enrolling her children at the school, for the first time ever, her first-grader and sixth-grader come home eager to do homework.
“I’ve never seen that in my children before. He (the superintendent) needs to take a better look at what this school does for children. They do so much for the kids.” Henry said she will be at the school board meeting on May 12 to vouch for the school.
Geuka said there’s a bigger issue at stake, and that is one of black people supporting black schools – financially or otherwise.
“The only thing that stops our black schools from being exemplary or outstanding is that we don’t get the best of our own children – whether it’s in sports or athletics or in academics,” he says.
He enrolled his own child in the school because he wanted to set an example that he wanted students from intact families and where education is a priority, to also enroll in the school. His son is now a presidential honors student at FAMU.
As for the future of the school, Geuka says this situation does not signal the end. “We’re not about to roll over and play dead, no matter what decision the school board makes May 12th,” said Geuka. He said the school is prepared to take legal recourse if necessary.
Photo: Amefika Geuka