Detroit Education Reform Funding Joy

Detroit: The Man Whose Vision Inspired the Catherine Ferguson Academy (RIP)

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This article is a very interesting account of the life and accomplishments of Paul Weertz. He saved a block in Detroit by his love of agriculture and horticulture. He is of interest to readers of this blog because he was one of the leaders of the Catherine Ferguson Academy for pregnant girls in Detroit, now defunct.


CFA was a Detroit public school that enrolled pregnant girls. According to the article, it was incredibly successful and all of its graduates went on to college. The focus of the school that differentiated it from other schools was its agriculture program, which Paul Weertz created and nurtured. The students were very invested in raising their own food, and this was a motivating factor for the girls.


But despite the school’s success, the emergency manager decided to shut it down and turn it over to a charter operator (who had political connections).  At some point in this process, when it appeared the school was doomed, Rachel Maddow took an interest and reported on this situation. After a few years as a charter, the Catherine Ferguson Academy was closed permanently.


As the article tells the story:


Weertz is understandably proud of the success of his block of Farnsworth. But his other success story, his role as the teacher who helped build up the agricultural program at Catherine Ferguson Academy, ended badly. He says it had always been a struggle to justify the funding for a school that combined parent-focused teaching, day care, and an intense agricultural component, but the fact remains that all of the academy’s students went on to college, and the scholars’ children received excellent care. But instead of being imitated, it was terminated.


The beginning of the end came when a Lansing-appointed emergency manager stepped in and announced the school would be closed. This resulted in a battle that left the school open, but in the hands of a charter operator. The charter company, run by Blair Evans, brother of current Wayne County Executive Warren Evans, closed the school after running it for a few years.


“Well it’s always been ‘too much money,’” he says. “That’s why there were only five schools like that in the country. Pregnancy is the leading cause of dropout for young women. You think they’d have these at every state in the union, but it’s just a discrimination issue. You can hassle poor women or pregnant women; they’re not gonna say anything. With pregnant girls, we can somehow say, ‘It’s your fault.’


“It’s a sensitive issue to me because I’ve always felt like I donated a lot of my labor and material, so to speak, because it was the public. Blair Evans is a nice guy, but I’m not donating my time to him. I thought it was the public school. It’s like cleaning up a public park and finding out it’s a gated community. What happened there? So that’s the way it happened at Catherine Ferguson, and it was kind of a media frenzy. So many of us walked away like, ‘That wasn’t a victory,’ but that’s how the media presented it. ‘They’re saving the school and it’s OK!’ No one is doing a story now about what happened to the school. What is Detroit doing with their pregnant kids now?”


Rachel Maddow, you are needed now! Time for a follow-up story!


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