April 10, 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Delray high school that caters to Haitians to move for sixth time in 7 years, by Georgia East.
Toussaint L'Ouverture High School for Arts and Social Justice looks like an average school from the outside, but inside its students have greater then average needs.
Many have recently arrived from Haiti, speaking little English. At the charter high school they can adjust to a new education system in a new country.
But the school's immediate challenge is to find a new site when their current lease expires in June. It will be Toussaint High's sixth move in seven years. Staff and students moved into their current campus, the former Atlantic High School, in January.
"I don't think the public would think this is fair," said Diane Allerdyce, the school's chief academic officer.
There have been no raucous public meetings about the charter school's coming displacement, but community leaders and school staff are petitioning the Palm Beach County school board to help Toussaint find a suitable alternative site. One way or another, the school will continue as it has since opening its doors in 2001, its leaders said.
"This particular school provides more than education. It's a community center for the Haitian American community," said state Rep. Maria Sachs, D- Delray Beach, who asked the school district to help Toussaint find some space.
A few months ago Toussaint's administration thought the school could finally provide some stability for its students.
After years of struggling financially and moving to five different sites, Toussaint struck a deal with the Palm Beach County School Board in October to lease the vacant Atlantic High School campus for $1 a year, plus maintenance.
The lease ran from January to June. Allerdyce said she thought they could stay about three years based on conversataions with district officials.
But two months after signing the lease around the time Toussaint was gearing up to move the school board votedto build a new facility on the property for the Plumosa School of the Arts. That work is slated to begin this summer, with completion in 2010.
Allerdyce said she and her staff were stunned. They had spent about $20,000 to move and clean the buildings.
"We're good fiscal managers, we would not have invested all this money for just six months," Allerdyce said.
Palm Beach County school board members said Toussaint officials may have been overly optimistic about how long they could stay on the campus. District officials had publicly discussed plans to locate Plumosa on the former Atlantic campus months before the vote.
One board member, however, said it was not clear to her that voting for Plumosa would displace Toussaint.
"It's unfortunate that we didn't have that foresight," said school board member Debra Robinson. "We really have to try to be focused, and the board's role is to focus on the regular non-charter public school."
The school district is working with charter school officials to locate other sites in the neighborhood, said Monroe Benaim, a school board member. No alternatives have been offered as yet, said the chairman of Toussaint's board, Jean Joseph-Lexima.
Toussaint has been in Delray Beach since it opened. It has held classes in a former strip plaza and at Goodwill. The Atlantic campus put Toussaint's students in a school setting.
During a passionate game of soccer recently, many said they appreciated playing on a field, rather than inside a warehouse, and studying in classrooms that had windows and doors.
When 11 computers were stolen recently from Toussaint, students said they were disheartened because they had had a modern computer lab for the first time.
Each time the school moves the administrators have to look for space close to a bus stop and in the same neighborhood, since most students walk or take the bus.
About 80 percent of the school's 165 students are of Haitian heritage, with the remaining 20 percent a mix of white, Asians, Hispanics and African Americans.
"Some of these kids are from the mountainside in Haiti, where they didn't get much exposure to English," said Walner Joseph, an English teacher at Toussaint. "The needs of these students are intense."
Toussaint's charter allows older students to enroll. Students like Esther Saint Laurent, 21, and her younger sister Stephanie, 19, spoke little English when they moved from Haiti six months ago. Today both serve on the school's student council.
"The district usually suggests adult education for a lot of our students," said Allerdyce, a co-founder of the school. "But here our students can be 18,19, 20. They still have academic needs and should be part of a high school."
Levine Jean, 19, moved from Haiti two years ago and enrolled in Toussaint. She wants to be a pediatrician and said the school sets high standards.
"My mom came here to help us," said Jean. "We didn't have any engineers or doctors in my family. We have a chance to make it."
Georgia East can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4629.
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