For Baltimore Freedom Academy, an honor especially sweet
The Baltimore school board Tuesday night honored the five city high schools that made the U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation's best. Everyone is excited that Baltimore has more schools on the list than any other jurisdiction in Maryland.
But one of the schools is more excited than the others.
The principals of Poly and City attended the board meeting to accept recognition on behalf of their schools. No one was there from the newly improved (and state football champ) Dunbar, so an alum in the audience stood up to represent his alma mater. Western, where alumnae are protesting the prospect of a girls middle school temporarily residing in its extra space, sent a handful of ladies to stand alongside their principal.
And then there was Baltimore Freedom Academy.
BFA, which is both a charter and a transformation school, is only six years old. It doesn't have admissions requirements, as the other four schools honored do. It doesn't yet offer any Advanced Placement courses, one of the factors considered by U.S. News. Its state test scores don't look as good as they actually are, since seniors have yet to take the biology exam required for graduation. But in another area measured, performance of disadvantaged students, BFA does very well.
"I'm honestly not sure what statistics they used for the list," Principal Dana Hunter wrote in an e-mail to me, "but we have a graduation rate that has been over 90% every year (and the rest graduate within 6 months) and every single scholar (regardless of when they graduate) is accepted to at least one college or university, most of whom attend. We don't have honors clases because we believe that every child is an honors student, and we create rigor in every class to differentiate for the needs of every child."
With a minority population of 98 percent and 60 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch, the school has made AYP every year. It has a social justice theme, urging students to figure out solutions to social inequalities and building their literacy skills by having them interview community members.
By my count, BFA sent about 50 students, staff and parents to Tuesday's board meeting, many of them wearing "I (Heart) BFA" T-shirts. Hunter said everyone knew about the ranking -- released last weekend -- by the time school was back in session Monday morning. Over the weekend, she had kids calling her on her cell phone.
"It was just sort of a sigh of relief, what we’re doing is the right thing," she told me in an interview. "It was a huge boost in the pride in the community." In the hallways this week, whenever anyone misbehaves, she said, "we’re like, 'We don't do that. This is a good school. Didn’t you hear?'"