Sunday, September 03, 2006

A bold plan to set black boys up for success

The following article appeared in the The Chicago Sun Times. The Chicago Public Education System is failing this population. Choice is an excellent step to improve the future of this group and all groups. All parents should have the right to choose the best education opportunity for their child that will ensure success and a productive adult life.

A bold plan to set black boys up for success

September 3, 2006

BY KATE N. GROSSMAN Education Reporter

One hundred forty black high school boys, sharply dressed in polo shirts and khakis, stood silently in five long lines in an auditorium in West Englewood on a recent Tuesday.

It was the final week of summer school for the new Urban Prep Charter Academy, the city's first all-boys public high school in 35 years. The school officially opens Tuesday.

"There's a vibe, a feeling in this room -- some of you are losing focus!" bellowed Ben Blakeley, one of three Urban Prep administrators leading the school's daily "community'' meeting in the auditorium. "When we lose focus, something bad happens, we stray off our path!"

Their misdeeds?

Three came late. A few forgot their belts. A handful stared into space.

In many schools, those infractions might go unnoticed.

Goal is 5 schools

Not so at Urban Prep, one of 14 new schools opening this fall as part of Renaissance 2010, the city's controversial plan to close and re-create its most troubled public schools, including Englewood High, which Urban Prep is replacing. When Englewood's phaseout began in 2005, just 16 percent of its juniors read at grade level.

As an antidote, Urban Prep's founders opted for something radically different. They've designed a school they believe will work for boys, particularly black boys, who have only a one-in-four chance of graduating from a Chicago public school. They're starting with 160 freshmen on one campus. They hope eventually to open five all-boys schools.

Tim King, the school's president and driving force, says research suggests boys learn better under conditions of stress. So he and his 17 teachers and administrators -- including 15 African-American males -- are ladling it on.

The students will face a rigorous college prep curriculum taught in an in-your-face, Socratic style, with double periods of English, an eight-hour school day and required after-school activities, community service and internships. They're already greeting teachers with handshakes. Starting Tuesday, they will wear red ties and black blazers.

The idea is to create a sense of community and brotherhood and give the boys enough support so they know their teachers truly want them to succeed.

'There's no power struggles'

So far, they are lapping it up.

"I came because I felt they were going to make me work for my education," said Andre Young, a freshman from Englewood. "Here, you feel like you're someone important."

Nearly all of the freshmen showed up for summer school at Lindblom High, where Urban Prep will be this year while nearby Englewood High is renovated. For three weeks, boys took standardized tests, read silently for 25 minutes daily and were drilled on school rules. They met in small discussion groups daily.

Many were uneasy about a single-sex school but were starting to see the big picture.

"I don't want to be around all boys, but I came because they said it would prepare me to be a man and go to college,' said Melvin Brown, who lives in Chatham.

Even the teachers were floored by how quickly the boys fell in line.

"There's no power struggles -- and I've seen different," said Chezare Warren, who taught eighth grade at a North Lawndale school last year. When he took on that class in December, five teachers had already left in frustration

Residents skeptical

The Urban Prep boys graduated from 52 elementary schools, including parochial ones, but about 70 percent live in Englewood.

When King proposed his idea to people in Englewood, some thought his design team -- a group of well-dressed, well-educated African Americans -- couldn't relate to poor kids from Englewood. At a community forum last fall, several people asked pointed questions suggesting the team was underestimating the intense social problems some Englewood kids might face.

King, an easygoing 39-year-old, is former president of Hales Franciscan, an all-boys Catholic High School on the South Side where most of the African-American families struggle financially. During his five years as president, 100 percent of each graduating class was admitted to college. He has been working on Urban Prep since 2002.

'We believe in them'

King says his staff is fully aware of the social problems his kids may face and is tackling that head-on with the highly structured day, an experienced staff and extra student supports, such as daily advisory sessions and school meetings, low student-to-staff ratios, access to teachers via cell phones and black role models.

"How can we not manage that?" said Eric Smith, an African-American English teacher. "For too long, we've said, 'Those kids,' but they were our kids, dead, in jail, working minimum-wage jobs. They're my babies, and we believe in them. It's idealistic but not so farfetched to believe we can set them up for success."

With three successful weeks of summer school behind him, King took a moment to enjoy the victory.

"We've got a group that has really bought into what we're selling," he said in late August.

But no one at Urban Prep is naive enough to think the battle is won.

"We have no illusions," King said. "We know it'll be incredibly difficult and challenging, but it's very encouraging to see the group taking steps to at least meet us halfway."

Along with this story we suggest the book Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It by Juan Williams.

Here is one of the editorials that appears on the site.

Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
When Bill Cosby addressed a 50th-anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education, he created a major controversy with seemingly inoffensive counsel ("begin with getting a high school education, not having children until one is twenty-one and married, working hard at any job, and being good parents"). Building from Cosby's speech, NPR/Fox journalist Williams offers his ballast to Cosby's position. Williams starts with the question, "Why are so many black Americans, people born inside the gates of American opportunity, still living as if they were locked out from all America has to offer?" His answers include the debacle of big-city politics under self-serving black politicians; reparations as "a divisive dead-end idea"; the parlous state of city schools "under the alliance between the civil rights leaders and the teachers' unions"; and the transformation of rap from "its willingness to confront establishment and stereotypes" to "America's late-night masturbatory fantasy." A sense of the erosion of "the high moral standing of civil rights" underlies Cosby's anguish and Williams's anger. Politically interested readers of a mildly conservative bent will find this book sheer dynamite. (Aug.)
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