In Pursuit of Excellence…Council of Leaders Forms to Help "The High" Defy Statistics

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Community Council Formed to Support Boys & Girls High School
By David Mark Greaves

In 1815 Peter and Benjamin Croger of Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church,  started the first School in Brooklyn to educate African-American children, it was called “The African School.” In 1841 the city of Brooklyn annexed the school and named it “Colored School Number One.” Taken from a plaque at the Charles Alexander Dorsey School.

Community involvement in the education of young people has a long history.  It is now being updated with the formation of the Boys & Girls High School Community Advisory Council, a group of residents and community leaders that grew out of conversations between New York State Regent Lester Young, Jr.  and Councilman Al Vann who had expressed to each other their concerns about the stresses put on the school, and joined by Principal Stephen Holder, they decided to convene a community council.
“Councilman Vann and I have been talking about Boys and Girls for some time,” said Regent Young.  “It is one of the few remaining large high schools in New York City.  The school has tremendous potential and a history and tradition of excellence, but it has some challenges that it’s facing.”   Regent Young said that rather than “stay on the sidelines as critical observers, we thought it was important to maintain the original integrity of community involvement and create a strategy that would support the further development of the school.”
Councilman Vann says that Boys and Girls High serves a “unique and significant function” with things that are very good about it and things that have to be improved to survive as a community school.  “It was along those lines that we asked people if they wanted to serve.  What is great is that so many Bedford-Stuyvesant leaders and community residents feel strongly enough about our school that they were willing to put their time and energy into making things better in our community.”
Principal Holder said that this support was welcomed and needed.  The school has already been working with The Algebra Project to improve math scores with intensive staff training, and with the Lorraine Monroe Institute on education strategies.  In the Fall session, the school will be reorganizing into four magnet communities within the school centered around themes such as humanities, law, business, entertainment and art.  “Everyone is very excited about this change” says Holder.  “The objective is to bring the staff and student closer together, and to give the students a way to follow their interests.  It will give the students a choice.  This is a model that has worked,” says Holder.  “We expect ups and downs, but it is the change we believe the school needs.”
Holder said they also need stronger parental involvement  when we asked about the DOE’s Learning Environment Survey Report and the disheartening numbers for the school, with 11% parent participation and low academic expectation ratings being two examples.
Asked about the low community involvement rating on the Survey, and if that was something the Council was looking at, Regent Young said   “Absolutely, that’s one of the primary purposes.  I think there’s a link between school development and community development.  The activities of the school have to be transparent.  There must be a community outreach process.  If you talk to people in schools they will tell you the parents are not involved when their kids get to high school. However that is not the same as saying community involvement doesn’t help the school.  This structure that we’re putting in place is a vehicle to getting the community more involved in the school.”
Dr. Young explained that “As children get older in school, parents, quite naturally begin to disengage and pursue there own survival strategies.  They may be able to go from a part time job to a fulltime job, because now ‘my child is older and I don’t have to worry about them going back and forth’ things of that nature.  And as kids grow into adolescence, they begin to move away from their parents.”  He says that one of the charges of the advisory council is to help Boys & Girls become more effective in expanding parental involvement.  “We can be more effective in bringing the parents out,” Young insists.
One of the stresses on the school is the 21% “special needs” student population.  Advisory Council member Jitu Weusi said that number should be about 10%.  Councilman Vann agrees.  “21% is disproportionate to what other schools have. We’re going to meet with the chancellor.  And unless he can show otherwise, we’re going to ask him to make the modification for the incoming class.”
One of the notable facts about “The High” is the large number, almost 40, of teachers and administrators who are former students.  “They bring with them an understanding of the many issues that our young people face before they even come in the classroom,” said Principal Holder. A large percentage of our students go through major challenges every day and need to hear encouragement every day.”
But the school is only one section of the school-to-future pipeline that the children are in.  “We said to Spencer, you’re on the receiving end” noted Regent Young.  “While we are prepared to assist you to figure out the challenges here in this building, in a lot of respects we’re just dealing with the symptoms.  The real cure is in prevention.  We have to look at the feeder pattern and how do we reach out to those middle schools to better prepare students for the high school experience.”
Councilman Vann says that part of the problem is that the majority of the students Boys & Girls receives are coming in with very weak skills.  “The school has the additional challenge to bring them up to standard and then bring them forward so they can graduate.”  What is needed says the Councilman is for the Advisory Council to be an educational family and ask what how they can help the schools feeding Boys and Girls.  “The initiative starts with the high school, and then it will extend down to the feeder schools as well.”
“We plan to do several things,” says Regent Young. One is be an advisory body to the principal. Two, we hope to better communicate to the community what is happening in the school.  Three, we are an accountability mechanism to ask the right questions and report back to the community.  And our members can provide some advocacy and some resources to the school as well.”
We have to celebrate the success of our students,” Dr. Young continued.  “We have youngsters going to some of the top schools in the country.  Some of the top scholarships offered in the country have been won here at Boys and Girls.
The school is one of the few remaining large high schools located in a community of color that doesn’t have metal detectors, is not an impact school with a lot of police in the building.  There is a culture that was established by the former principal and we want to build on that existing culture and move forward.”

Boys and Girls High School Community Advisory Council
Ms. Deborah Akinbowale
1700 Fulton Street ~Room 117
Brooklyn, New York 11213

Ms. Ava Barnett, President
Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Inc.
PO Box 330009
Brooklyn, New York 11233

Ms. Brenda Fryson
63 Chauncey Street
Brooklyn, New York 11233

Mr. Colvin Grannum, President and CEO
Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
1368 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, New York 111216

Ms. Bernice Green Greaves, Co-Publisher
Our Times Press
679 Lafayette Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11216

Rev. David Hampton
Bethany Baptist Church
460 Marcus Garvey Boulevard
Brooklyn, New York 11216

Mr. Spencer Holder, Principal
Boys and Girls High School
1700 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, New York 11216

Mr. Dourdy Jordain, Executive President
Bedford Stuyvesant YMCA
1121 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11216

Ms. Phyllis Hurd, Director
Quincy Senior Residence
625 Quincy Street
Brooklyn, New York 11221

Mr. Lloyd Porter, Representative
SOLA (Shops on Lewis Avenue Association)
403 Lewis Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11233

Ms. Claudia Schrader
Medgar Evers College/ CUNY
1650 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11225

Ms. Andrea Toussaint
439 MacDonough Street
Brooklyn, New York 11233

Councilman Albert Vann
613-619 Throop Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11216

Mr. Jitu Weusi
1107 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, New York 11238

Dr. Lester W. Young, Jr., Regent
New York State Education Department
55 Hanson Place ~Suite 400
Brooklyn, New York 11217

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