The founder of Chicago’s Urban Prep high schools, which have sent black male graduates to four-year colleges, talked about strategies – longer school days, after-hours cellphone teacher contact, daily student huddles, jackets and ties – to parents who gathered Saturday afternoon in one of the lowest-achieving schools in the Buffalo School District.
“These are poor black boys that are supposed to be dead by the time they’re 25,” said Tim King, 45, to the mostly black audience in the auditorium of Burgard High School.
His short, compelling speech about how he opened three schools, with a fourth in the works and a plan to move to other cities, was peppered with statistics and enthusiastic bursts of applause from the audience. They were among the 145 or so who came for the “Parent Engagement Conference,” a day of workshops to help parents and children get better results from the public school system. The event was organized by the Community Action Organization of Erie County.
Urban Prep graduates – from 2010, 2011 and 2012 – total 107, and they now represent one in 20 of all of the young black men from Chicago public schools enrolled in college, King said.
“One school really can make a difference,” he said. “Something is wrong, and it needs to be fixed.”
King said he was “shocked, but not surprised” by how Buffalo schools close between 3 and 4 p.m. in the afternoon – early, compared with Urban Prep.
The schools, which now have 1,500 students, lengthened the school day to 4:30 p.m. and required afterschool activities to 6 p.m., in response to findings that most violence occurs between 2 and 6 p.m.
Other strategic approaches include responding to poor reading skills by increasing English requirements and a minimum graduation requirement of 10 English credits.
He pointed to statistics he gave to Congress this summer in a hearing about gang violence: So far, this year’s homicide deaths in Chicago – about 400 – outnumber the nearly 200 U.S. deaths in Afghanistan . The numbers, King said, are evidence that the nation’s military spending is out of sync with spending on urban problems, including poor education.
“Where are the billions of dollars?” he said. “Convince these children they have a future.”
King’s appearance fit with CAO’s effort to push for change in the Buffalo schools.
Before introducing King, CAO President Nathan Hare passed out a petition and read a letter asking the state commissioner of education to find ways to fundamentally change Buffalo’s segregated schools.
Hare said distinguished educator Judy Elliott’s recent system plan and critique of administrators failed to address the profound problems in schools that serve the white minority best. The black majority would be better off with neighborhood schools open until 7 p.m., he said.
Tashika Coleman, mother and care coordinator at the Family Help Center nonprofit agency, attended a workshop and listened to King.
Buffalo could use an Urban Prep, she said.
She took her 18-year-old son out of Burgard in February after frequent suspensions and below-grade-level class work made it clear it would be better to drop out and study for a general equivalency diploma so he could apply to a Florida school for training as an airplane pilot.
Now that her 11-year-old is struggling with math, Coleman intends to get in touch with the school and figure out new learning strategies.
“I am definitely going to be calling about my daughter,” she said.