More than two years after Fayette County Public Schools opened an academy for boys aimed at closing the achievement gap, school leaders are pleased with the early results.
In 2012-13, Carter G. Woodson Academy's overall score on the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress, or K-PREP, test, was 50.1. In 2013-14, school leaders set a target score of 55.09. It hit 55.4.
"We are excited about the data that is coming back," said Jaynae Boateng, director of the program, which shares the Crawford Middle School building on Charleston Drive.
Ninety percent of the 163 students in the traditional college-prep program are black and 4 percent are Hispanic. The students, now in grades 6 to 11, are referred to as "scholars." They wear crested blue blazers and ties to school. They often end conversations with adults by saying, "Have a nice day."
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The Carter G. Woodson Academy provides an advanced and rigorous curriculum that meets common core standards through the lens of black history, culture and culturally responsive teaching and learning strategies, according to the district's website.
The school's vision is to "educate, motivate and activate the potential for excellence that lies within every male."
There is an emphasis on academics, structure, expectations, and family and community involvement. The school has partnerships with colleges and universities, and arranges out-of-state trips so students may visit colleges.
"It is fun to come to work to really feel like you are impacting a community," said Carl Hayden, the administrative dean. "Having the structure and support really helps with boys."
"You want them prepared for life," said Boateng. "They've got to be able to compete globally."
The school's guidelines for success center on the "well principles": Well-behaved, well-mannered, well-dressed, well-spoken, well-read, well-traveled and well-prepared.
The program is open to males of any race, but it is patterned after Black Males Working, or BMW, a private educational enrichment program for young black males that First Baptist Church Bracktown opened in 2005. BMW, which the church still operates, helps young black males prepare for college and careers.
State Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, chairman of House Education Committee, said this month that he planned to visit Carter G. Woodson.
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said he has been impressed by the concept since he first learned of the Black Males Working program at First Baptist Bracktown.
"Results are strong, and programs like this could be replicated in other districts. It certainly is one strategy that could address achievement gaps," Holliday said of the academy.
The Board of Education authorized the academy in June 2011 as then-superintendent Stu Silberman was retiring. Outgoing superintendent Tom Shelton, who has resigned effective Wednesday, implemented it.
Carter G. Woodson will move from Crawford to Fayette County's newest high school when it opens on Winchester Road in fall 2017.
The first class of seniors will graduate in 2016.
Leander Ridgeway said he wanted his son to attend Carter G. Woodson "because I felt like this school would offer more for him."
Ridgeway said his son, a junior, has been at Carter G. Woodson since its inception and has been exposed to a focus on college preparation and life skills.
"He's getting more confident in his studies," Ridgeway said.
NiKerrion McDonald, an eighth-grader, said his parents thought the setting would be better for him.
"It's more challenging," said NiKerrion.
Two years ago, Theo Overton wasn't sure he wanted to attend Carter G. Woodson. He said his mother made him go.
But the ninth-grader said his grades improved "dramatically."
"The difference in me is that I started to care a lot more," said Theo. "It's just kind of the environment. It's a lot more focused in this school."
Theo said he was struck by how much his teachers cared.
"If we need help with homework or if we need extra hours, they will do it, no matter what," he said.