CRENSHAW — With a boys-only academy opening in South Los Angeles when school starts in August, improving the education of young men of color was the topic of a panel discussion June 14 at Crenshaw High School.
The event, hosted by Los Angeles Unified School District Local District West Superintendent Cheryl P. Hildreth, was a way to bring more focus on the issue.
“We realize as a local district we can’t do it alone,” Hildreth said. “We’ve known this has been an issue we’ve been talking about for a long time, but if we just keep talking about it and not doing anything, we are not going to have a difference.”
The panelists included school board Vice President George McKenna, Pedro Noguera, professor of UCLA Graduate School of Education; Adrian Huerta, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA; Darnise Williams, Local District West Administrator of Instruction; and Jeremy McDavid, the inaugural principal of the Boys Academic Leadership Academy.
The voices of two young African-American men were also on the panel. Tyler Hildreth is a Morehouse College graduate and Malik Morris is a rising senior at Dorsey High School.
“We should be more responsible and attractive to people,” McKenna said. “What are we really trying to do here? Other than contain them and have a place of employment, but not have celebratory outcomes other than athletic achievements?
“With a few exceptions, most of our schools have been identified as places to avoid and people voluntarily leave us. We human beings know what we don’t like and when we don’t like it we leave it.”
David C. Banks, president and CEO of the Eagle Foundation, came from New York with his team. He was the founding principal of the Eagle Academy for Young Men, the first school in a network of all-boys public schools in New York City.
His methods will be an initial road map to ways of running the Boys Academic Leadership Academy (BALA), which is scheduled to open in the 2017-18 school year in South Los Angeles for sixth and seventh grade boys with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math.
“The fact that you’ve chosen this path of creating BALA is huge,” Banks said. “At some point, you have try to do something and I salute you for your district and leadership for actually trying to take this on,”
During the power point presentation, Williams highlighted the problems in her district. Some of the unintended consequences of the current education system are disconnect between teaching and learning, assumptions about ability, and under performance.
She recounted a moment she had with a male student. He had his headphones on listening to “Rules of Engagement,” by Ice Cube.
“He asked me if I knew ‘the rule.’ At first I didn’t quite understand what he meant, but I got it once I recognized the song,” Williams said.
Williams found that for the boys, protection is paramount. They need to feel safe in order to educate them. Trust is also very important.
“Understanding where they come from might not be in line with what we do in the school.”
Statistics from the class of 2017 were shown. Of the 40,880 African American and Hispanic students in Local District West 42 percent of Hispanic males were not college ready in English language arts and 50 percent of African American males were not college ready in English language arts.
In New York, graduation rates were around 32 percent, which is why the all-boys public high school was created in 2004. They eventually changed their model and started the school at grade 6.
“The selection of your leader is the most important decision you’ll make,” Banks said. “If you get that wrong, it’s an uphill battle.”
He explained that many all-boy schools in the country have failed because of having the wrong staff.
“It starts with their mindset,” Banks said. “Some people are great teachers, but they’re not ready to teach at an all-boy school.”
Jeremy McDavid is the leader who will take on the task of heading the Boys Academic Leadership Academy. He is a LAUSD veteran with more than 20 years of experience as a teacher, assistant principal and operations coordinator.
“The group of people that we have, they have a belief that every student can do well. Those are the qualities that we look for,” McDavid said.
He has already set a foundation. The academy will have three core values.
The first is excellence. School officials want the students to try to do their best and will give them challenges.
The next one is leadership. It’s not just being a leader, but knowing when to make the right decision, and the last one is wellness. It’s not just about self-care, but how to learn to be responsible for other people.
The all-boy school is not the only plan of action. Local District West is launching pilot gender responsive (single-sex) mathematics courses at selected elementary and middle schools.
“I thought this panel was phenomenal,” said Trishtan Williams,whose son attends Westport Heights Elementary School in Westchester. “It’s imperative that we have African American men come together to come to the community and bring it back together. The men are our leaders and if they don’t take a stance, then who will?”
Her husband, Neal Glover, is skeptical about the new school.
“I’ve been dealing with kids and gang intervention for about 30 years,” he said. “Some of the perspectives today were on point. However, I would focus on the existing schools because that’s where our children are.
“They’re speaking about the negative things, but there are so many incredible people that came out of Crenshaw High. They should also bring back trade school classes.”