Charter school fights to stay open

EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. - An East St. Louis school claims shutting it down could shut down its students' opportunity for an education.

The Tomorrow's Builders YouthBuild Charter School doesn't turn students down, so many of them turn to the school when they've been expelled from everywhere else in the district. But the state Board of Education claims the school is failing, so it's closing it by the end of the school year.

One of the school's graduates is Joesean Williams. He has a much different life than what could have been. As a teen, he had been expelled from every school in his district and was heading down the wrong path. That is, until he found the Tomorrow's Builders Charter School.

"If it wasn't there for me there'd probably be no hope for me today," said Williams.

Now, he has a job he loves, working for the St. Clair County Housing Authority. He says it's thanks to the school that saved him.

"It saved me, exactly. That's exactly what it did," said Williams.

But the state board of education is shutting down the school on June 30. The recommendation for closure states the school is falling into debt, its teachers aren't properly certified, and it's failing to make progress toward performance requirements, among other problems. The school denies those points, especially when it comes to performance.

"When they point the finger at us, they're pointing the finger at themselves. Because that failure with that young person occurred many years ago. It didn't just occur the minute they stepped into our doors," said one of the school's teachers, Keevin Higgins.

Plus, the school says when students step out of their doors, they're far more likely to succeed. Take Brandon Vaughn: after graduating, he served in the Army. Now, he's now a math tutor, and going to college to become a teacher. He says, without the school the students' futures are bleak.

"If they get kicked out or have already been kicked out, that means you just took away your education from them. That means they don't have anything to resort to besides drugs and violence. Then they're probably going to go to jail or probably get killed," said Vaughn.

The board says East St. Louis schools have agreed to enroll students in one of their programs, even if they have been expelled in the past. It's not clear though if there will be another place similar to the Tomorrow's Builders School, which will not expel students no matter what.


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