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    Photo: Benjamin Herold

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Jerome King, 17

Jerome King has a knack for avoiding negativity.

"I squash trouble really quickly," he said.

That's part of why King had a good experience and positive relationships last year at Gratz, despite the school's troubled reputation. "Teachers were willing to help if students needed it," he said.

King found out early on that Gratz was being awarded to Mastery Charter as part of the Renaissance Schools initiative.

"We had a meeting in March about registration," he said. "It was a small group of well-known students who got good grades. They told everybody [else] three weeks later."

A favorable impression of Mastery at that point, plus positive reports from a cousin who attends Mastery-Shoemaker, made King's decision to re-enroll easy.

Taneesha Taylor, 17

For Taneesha Taylor, it's always been a struggle at Gratz.

Last year, she was often truant and tardy, and she ended the year not on track to graduate.

"She started losing interest in school," said Marie Walker, her grandmother.

Taylor thought this summer that she might drop out and join Job Corps. At her grandmother's behest, she registered at Gratz anyway.

Mastery staff was helpful, said Walker, encouraging Taylor to reserve a place despite her uncertainty.

But when Taylor arrived at Gratz the first day, she was dismayed that Mastery had placed her into an accelerated program for over-age and undercredited students.

The year started with Taylor saying she wouldn't be going to school after all.

Sandra Bentley, 16

Sandra Bentley wanted to go back to Gratz, but she was having trouble.

First was the paperwork. Bentley only needed to fill out a two-page form to reserve a spot. But those two pages were part of a 10-page packet requesting everything from immunizations to an agreement to be drug-tested.

"Do you think they will let me at the school without my birth certificate and Social Security card?" Bentley asked.

Assured by Mastery staff that she would be welcome, Bentley ran into another problem a few days before school started.

"I don't have the uniform yet," she said.

Last year, Bentley missed weeks of school, in part due to family issues.

At Mastery-Gratz, she missed the first few days. But now she's there, starting junior year.

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