Syracuse’s Plan for Refugee Charter School

More stories from Sabrina Riley

The city of Syracuse is being proposed as a home for an agriculture-focused high school for refugees. Ellen Eagen, a former teacher, is now involved in the newly formed non-profit Sustainable Sciences and Technology Foundation, has intentions to begin the process of opening a charter school in December.

Eagen’s main purpose of establishing this charter school is to tackle unemployment issues, work with undereducated refugees and fix the high dropout rate in Syracuse.

OnTECH Charter High School would mainly serve refugees and focus on career technical education in agriculture and other related fields.

If Eagen’s plan gets approved through the state’s application process, OnTECH will open in 2017 to a group of ninth grade students. The school will start out by only accepting 100 students the first year, but will continue to grow a class each year until there are 350 students enrolled.

When asked about these plans, Sophomore Alexis Eastman has mixed feelings about what Eagen’s OnTECH entails.

“I think Eagen’s heart is in the right place and it is a good idea. However, there are already so many programs trying to enable those in need and at some point we can’t keep feeding endless dollars into these programs,” said Eastman.

There is no specific location in mind for the school as of now, but Eagen told that organizers were working with a realtor to find a building on the North Side of the city, where many refugees have settled.

When Eagen first moved to Syracuse in 2007, she was shocked to see what the refugee population looked like. According to, she said she wants OnTECH to help young people be successful. She believes that refugees come to the United States without having any schooling. Eagen would set up OnTECH as a nontraditional school that could be structured to accommodate student’s schedules.

Phil Novak, a Communications professor at Le Moyne, said he’s wary of the focus on charter schools. “I’m not a fan of the charter school movement, mainly because it functions as a distraction from what I think we ought to be focusing on, fixing the public school system. But some charter schools have succeeded. Whether or not this one is a good idea, I don’t know.”