JCPS: Proposed W.E.B. Dubois Academy would target males of color

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Calling it the "next evolution" for Jefferson County Public Schools, officials unveiled a plan Tuesday to create a district-wide magnet school geared toward black male students that would open in time for the 2017-18 year.

The school, which is being referred to as the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, would initially serve up to 150 sixth graders with plans to expand to more grades in the future, according to John Marshall, the district's chief equity officer.

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.

"We understand you need to teach these boys a little bit different," Marshall said, later adding that "we pretend we were dropped on the world’s stage as slaves. What does that do to our minds?"

Marshall said while the school is being geared towards black students, any of the district's male students could apply to get in. And although the plan to create the DuBois Academy was unveiled Tuesday night, specific details -- such as the cost and possible location -- are still being discussed.

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.

He also mentioned the need to identify and name a principal for the school as soon as possible, "so he or she can help design it."

Superintendent Donna Hargens said she would bring forth a plan for the new school to the school board for approval "in a few months," before the district's Showcase of Schools on Oct. 28-29.

As WDRB reported earlier this year, Marshall, Hargens and other district officials have been visiting the Carter G. Woodson Academy throughout the past year as they attempt new, research-based approaches to addressing high-poverty, low-achieving schools.

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.

Rosz Akins, the school's dean of students, attended Tuesday's 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.

JCPS school board chairman David Jones Jr. admitted "it's hard to talk openly about race."

"My generation (is not) very good at it," Jones said, asking the Woodson Academy students to discuss what it meant to have productive conversations about race.

Kaleb Osborne, a senior at Woodson Academy, said he believes that "adults have held onto the past for too long."

"My generation, we see color, but we don’t see color if you know what I mean," he said. "We have to look past the past and look to the future."

Akins says Woodson Academy has an enrollment of 225 students this year, up from 187 students who attended last year.  

She noted that although the school is open to all males in grades six-through-12, about 90 percent of students in the traditional college-prep program at the school are black and 8 percent are Hispanic. Of the school's entire enrollment, 70 percent qualify for free and reduced price lunch.

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.

Akins said in 2018, the school will expand to include elementary students, noting that the overarching goal is to "establish a culture of academic excellence."

Students are expected to read every day, attend after school tutoring or tutoring on weekends (if necessary) and maintain an acceptable grade point average in order to participate in sports or other extra-curricular activities. In addition, parents are expected to ensure that their sons come to school prepared and to visit the academy at least four times annually to talk with their sons' teachers, Akins said.

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Several local pastors and community members -- as well as officials from the Louisville NAACP -- were invited to attend Tuesday's work session.

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