JCPS 'Males of Color' Academy moves forward with project manager - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS 'Males of Color' Academy moves forward with project manager from Lexington

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JCPS Chief Equity Officer John Marshall presents a plan regarding the proposed Males of Color Academy during a work session in August JCPS Chief Equity Officer John Marshall presents a plan regarding the proposed Males of Color Academy during a work session in August
Rosz Akins Rosz Akins

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The founder of Lexington's Carter G. Woodson Academy has been selected as the project manager who will help Jefferson County Public Schools develop a district-wide magnet school geared toward black male students.

SNIKA Educational Consulting LLC, headed by Roszalyn "Rosz" Akins, won the competitive negotiation bid advertised by JCPS earlier this month to help the district establish the school, which is being referred to as the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, named after the author, sociologist and civil rights activist.

Jennifer Brislin, a district spokeswoman, said two other bids were submitted, but that SNIKA came in with the winning bid at $125,000. The bid was discussed by the school board at length Tuesday night before they voted unanimously in favor of it with a 5-0 vote.

Two other companies submitted bids for project manager -- the Eagle Academy Foundation and TNTP, both of which are based in New York -- according to an open records request obtained by WDRB News late Wednesday. Eagle Academy's bid was for $474,450, while TNTP's bid was for $515,000.

Concern from JCPS board members on Tuesday came with where the item was placed on the agenda -- which was under bid tabulations and is typically where the district places all RFPs that are up for approval.

"I looked through the agenda...and found this bid tabulation...along with things like contracts for wrecker service and pest control and warehouse delivery and solid waste removal and (then) a contract for consulting on a male school of color," said board member Lisa Willner. "It seemed so oddly placed."

"I thought, we've got 76,000 students in our gap group, we have 37,00 African American students in this district...when I look at those numbers in envision equity report, it keeps me awake at night," Willner said. "It's so disturbing, we do have to do something. It deserves to have the light of day and to be talked about."

"This was hidden in a bid tabulation, not for a board conversation," she said.

Board member Steph Horne agreed, saying she felt "like a detective" trying to find the RFP, which was not uploaded to the board agenda before Tuesday's meeting, and still was not on the website on Wednesday.

Other board members wanted clarification on what exactly the contract is for, since they had not seen a copy of the winning bid.

"Are we approving the consultant until a plan is made or are we approving SNIKA to implement a program?" asked school board member Linda Duncan, adding that "we don't even have a plan yet to be able to talk about this. We have Woodson's plan, but we don't have our plan."

Superintendent Donna Hargens said the contract is for a "design and logistics plan for a Males of Color school/program."

"It's about assisting in the formation," Hargens told board members. "The design would go through magnet schools application process. This is the first step...exploration and engagement. It's part of the process."

A copy of the RFP obtained by WDRB News through an open records request gives great detail about what Akins would like to do as project manager.

"Work with the diversity director to put a team together from within the JCPS district for the selection of the principal of the school," the proposal reads. "As soon as the criteria is completed, we will advertise for applicants. We would set up the interviewing team and set the dates for the interviewing of the principal. If allowed, I would be a consultant on the interview team. The principal needs to be selected by Jan. 30."

Akins said the idea is for the DuBois Academy to start with 150 sixth grade boys and that applications should start to be received by March 1 and the entire staff interviewed and selected by April.

However, Hargens says that although Akins has provided a timeline in her proposal, the board would still have to approve a final plan and that it would likely be the 2018-19 year before it would be implemented.

"What we are paying for is for the consultant to come up with a design of a school, that of course has to go through a process, has to be vetted by a committee and then of course come to the board," she said. "We would like the board to be part of the process, which would go through the end of June."

In a document handed to board members moments before Tuesday's meeting, Hargens said the timeline to begin the work of developing this program will begin immediately.

"The end product being the magnet application which will be presented to a committee then the Cabinet for review and only then to the Board if recommended for approval," the document states. "We expect this to be brought forward to the Board no later than September 2017 for the next steps of planning to be able to implement this program/school by the 2018-2019 school year."

Back in August, JCPS Chief Equity Officer John Marshall provided the board and the public with a first look of what he'd like to develop in the district.

It is being modeled after Lexington's Carter G. Woodson Academy and feature an Afrocentric curriculum that would educate students through the lens of African American history and culture, he said.

"We can no longer shy away from the fact that the majority of students in JCPS look like this," Marshall said referring to the fact that minorities make up more than half of children born in the United States. "As a city, as a country, we have to discuss race."

According to district statistics, about 37 percent of JCPS students are black, while 46 percent are white.

JCPS' low-income and minority students continue to lag behind their peers across multiple content areas and grade levels. For example, in sixth grade, there is a 27-point difference between white students who are reading on grade level compared to their black counterparts.

In his presentation, Marshall indicated a few non-negotiables for the DuBois Academy, saying it must be a full district magnet school, it must never have a resides area and it cannot be an alternative school for behavior. He also said the school cannot have high concentrations of poverty.

The Woodson Academy is patterned after the "Black Males Working" program, a private educational enrichment program for young black males that was launched Akins and her husband, C.B. Akins, at their church, Lexington's First Baptist Church Bracktown in 2005.

C.B. Akins, is pastor of the church and a former Kentucky Board of Education member, while Rosz retired in 2004 after teaching for 27 years in FCPS.

Rosz Akins, the school's dean of students, attended the August work session to provide details about Woodson Academy. In addition, three students from the academy and Daryl Love, a Fayette County school board member, were also at the meeting.

Fayette County spent an entire year planning and invested about $700,000 to get the school running; it opened in the fall of 2012 with 25 students in grades six through nine; it has since expanded to twelfth grade.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter. 

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