The Poster Child For Public School Incompetency: Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts.

Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts is a high school on the west side of Baltimore, MD.

The school says its mission is:

The Mission of Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts is that we will prepare 21st Century leaders and learners in a safe learning artistic community where student achievement is our priority.

That sits side by side with the “vision” for the school which is:

We envision AFSIVA as a learning community in which we create a place where students, parents and community feel safe and welcome–where expression, college and high achievement is the expectation, not the exception.

To accomplish this excellence and college preparation, the school has a budget of $5.3 million dollars for 434 students and 24 teachers. The average teacher has taught for 12 years.

The school’s principal is named Kamala Carnes, and she’s proud. Really proud. She’s unafraid to say it:

With dedication, missions, visions and goals like that, it is no wonder that the school is an academic powerhouse.

Except it is not.

Tiffany France is a single mother who works three jobs to support her family. Her son has attended Agusta Fells for four years and she was proudly expecting her son to graduate in June.

Instead, her son will be repeating all four years of his academic career at Agusta Fells. He is being moved back to where he will have to repeat the 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades again.

Here’s why:

A shocking discovery out of a Baltimore City high school, where Project Baltimore has found hundreds of students are failing. It’s a school where a student who passed three classes in four years, ranks near the top half of his class with a 0.13 grade point average.

Tiffany France thought her son would receive his diploma this coming June. But after four years of high school, France just learned, her 17-year-old must start over. He’s been moved back to ninth grade.

“He’s stressed and I am too. I told him I’m probably going to start crying. I don’t know what to do for him,” France told Project Baltimore. “Why would he do three more years in school? He didn’t fail, the school failed him. The school failed at their job. They failed. They failed, that’s the problem here. They failed. They failed. He didn’t deserve that.”

France’s son attends Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts in west Baltimore. His transcripts show he’s passed just three classes in four years, earning 2.5 credits, placing him in ninth grade. But France says she didn’t know that until February. She has three children and works three jobs. She thought her oldest son was doing well because even though he failed most of his classes, he was being promoted. His transcripts show he failed Spanish I and Algebra I but was promoted to Spanish II and Algebra II. He also failed English II but was passed on to English III.

“I’m just assuming that if you are passing, that you have the proper things to go to the next grade and the right grades, you have the right credits,” said France. (emphasis ours)

One may be thinking that the kid’s grades are an aberration and surely his academic “achievements” rank him near the bottom of the academic rankings.

One would be wrong.

The kid ranks 62nd out of 120 students in the school. For the mathematically challenged (i.e. those who have attended the Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts,) that means he literally is in the upper half of all the kids in the 12th grade.

Project Baltimore pulled the data for Augusta Fells. We found many students are struggling. The school’s attendance rate is 61 percent. That’s 27 points below the district average. Of the 434 students enrolled in 2019, two tested proficient in math and two in English. Yet, 48 percent, nearly half the students, manage to graduate in four years. (emphasis ours)

It gets worse.

The school’s student attendance averages 64%

Of the 434 students, 132 students were suspended in 2019. That’s a rate of 3 students out of every 10.

France is blaming the school and she has every right to blame them:

I feel like they never gave my son an opportunity, like if there was an issue with him, not advancing or not progressing, that they should have contacted me first, three years ago,” said France.


“He’s a good kid. He didn’t deserve that. Where’s the mentors? Where is the help for him? I hate that this is happening to my child,” said an emotional France.

Project Baltimore talked with a City Schools administrator, who works inside North Avenue, but asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. That administrator says the school system absolutely failed France’s son.

The administrator told FOX45 News, City Schools failed because it has protocols and interventions set up to help students who are falling behind or have low attendance. In France’s son’s case, they didn’t happen.

At the same time, France has to take some blame as well:

As we dig deeper into [France’s] son’s records, we can see in his first three years at Augusta Fells, he failed 22 classes and was late or absent 272 days. But in those three years, only one teacher requested a parent conference, which France says never happened. No one from the school told France her son was failing and not going to class.

One has to wonder if the school issued report cards or any type of progress reports. If they did, France has to accept that some of the failure here is on her and definitely some of it is on her son. No one was preventing him from going to school. No one was preventing him from grasping the opportunity France said he was not given – that is the opportunity for an education. If Agusta Fells wasn’t doing the job, parents have the right and the responsibility to get their children out of the school and go somewhere else.

That didn’t happen and that falls on France and her son.

As this scandal began to break, the first thing the Baltimore City Schools did was to send out letters with talking points for teachers, administrators, and City Council members.

After all, instead of addressing the problem, it is better to get out in front of the cameras and present a “united front” on this issue.

When reporters asked City Council members questions, no Council member would speak with the media:

On Tuesday, FOX45 News contacted every member of the City’s Education, Workforce, and Youth committee to talk about concerns from the school.

Only two councilmembers, John Bullock and Robert Stokes, spoke briefly about the issue by phone.

The other five councilmembers on the committee — Zeke Cohen, Antonio Glover, Sharon Green Middleton, Phylicia Porter, and James Torrence — never responded.

On Wednesday, FOX45 News contacted all 14 members of City Council and City Council President Nick Mosby to discuss concerns about this Baltimore high school.

FOX45 sent the same questions to all of these elected officials:

  • How can City Council allow this to happen?
  • Is Council responsible for this failure?
  • What are you going to do to address these concerns?
  • Should City Schools CEO Dr. Santelises come to Council to address the problem?
  • Will City Council be opening an investigation to learn the scope of the problem?

Not a single councilmember responded to the email inquiries on Wednesday.

Only the chair of the Education, Workforce, and Youth committee, Councilman Robert Stokes, spoke about the topic by phone.

Stokes said the report is “concerning” and it is a conversation he “needs to have with the CEO” of City schools.

On both Tuesday and Wednesday, Stokes said he would not comment on the student in question without seeing documents from the school.

He also said the student’s mother needs to grant him permission to speak publicly on the topic.

Absolutely no accountability for this school’s failure of educating kids at all.

There is something else that needs to be said, and we suspect that this will get us into trouble somewhere from someone.

The ethnic makeup of Agusta Fells is:

Black – greater than or equal to 95%

Hispanic, White, Asian, American Indian, Pacific Islander and Multiracial – all less than 5%

In the summer of 2020, we saw and heard protests – some violent some not – concerning “Black Lives Matter” and specifically the lack of economic opportunity and good jobs in minority communities.

Who wants to hire some one who cannot read proficiently? Who cannot do basic math at a proficient level?

Remember, just 2 kids out of 434 at Agustas Fells can read, write and do math for their grade level.

Yet according to a school survey:

88% of parents feel that students are safe at this school

89% of parents feel welcomed

88% of parents feel that staff works closely with them to meet students’ needs (emphasis ours)

Only one in 8 parents (55 parents) thought the school was not meeting the needs of the students.

There is no way that more than half of the students having a GPA of less than 1.13 meets any needs.

Our point is a simple one: while the failure of the public education system is a failure that crossed all ethnic boundaries, at Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, students are being taught that their Black lives – their Black futures – don’t matter and aren’t important specifically to their parents and the Black community who sent their kids to the school.

Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts should be shuttered, the teachers fired, the administration let go, and the school reopened with resources to get these kids caught up academically. As it is, we see most of the kids just leaving the school at the end of the school year to wander the streets aimlessly with no future.

If people believe – really believe – that Black Lives Matter (we happen to believe that all lives matter, but that is for another post) then it is incumbent upon the people who are protesting to put their protests into action and get these kids a real education while holding those who failed to provide that education accountable.

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