By Feona Sharhran Huff
Education Field Reporter
As Bedford Academy High School approaches its Four-year Anniversary in September, longtime educator, visionary and school principal George D. Leonard has something to brag about. This past June, his students scored between 80 and 95 percent on the New York State Regents exams – an academic accomplishment that’s almost unheard of, especially for a start-up school.
“These test scores show that Black and Latino students who live in the projects can do as well as anyone if given an opportunity to shine,” Leonard insists. “Once you make the academic setting in any given institution comfortable and encouraging, it doesn’t matter what color the children are or their culture, they’re going to do well.”
Leonard – who helped set up Brooklyn’s Benjamin Banneker High School about 13 years ago – is a strong proponent of these exams, which are given in January and June. “The Regents is designed to determine if students are ready to go to college. This allows us to prepare them for the coursework,” he reasons.
Not only did his students rank in the top percentile overall, but Leonard had students who scored 100 percent on the biology Regents and extremely high on the chemistry Regents – pretty impressive for students who are majority level 1s and 2s.
“Maybe the education [system] in New York should reevaluate how they classify students as Level 1’s and 4’s because we’ve been very successful,” Leonard says. “[Our students’ transcripts look really good and very acceptable to getting into a lot of colleges.”
Leonard insists that Bedford Academy students are able to do well on the Regents exams and in their coursework because the teachers understand their scholastic needs, have the spirit of making them work hard and are committed to bringing out the best in them.
Additionally, he says, “We are able to provide instruction that will be well- received by Black and Latino students. We are always modifying our approach when it comes to structure, talking to them and encouraging their parents.”
The exam scores are not the only reason Leonard has to be proud of: Bedford Academy will have its first graduating class in June 2007 among the 330 students attending the high school. As he gets ready for this big day, Leonard is also focusing on how to take the high school to the next level.
“My goal is to have this academy on the same level as far as academic rigor as Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Staten Island Tech,” Leonard shares. “We want to expand Bedford Academy where we can really give specialized classes, college math, AP courses, etc.”
As he and his staff set things up on the academic side, he encourages the parents to do their part as well. “It’s important that they believe that their children can succeed,” he says. “Believe that they can be doctors and engineers.”