The Denver Public Schools board is expected to vote tonight on applications to open eight schools, including one for an all-boys charter focusing on African-Americans and Latinos in the district’s far northeast area.
“We looked for an area where less than 50 percent of boys of color are graduating and that is made up of more than 70 percent receiving free or reduced lunch,” said Tiffany Hardrick, finance officer for Miller-McCoy Academy for Mathematics and Business. “Far northeast fit the bill just right.”
Patterned after the Miller-McCoy charter school opened in fall 2008 in New Orleans, the proposed Denver school is aimed at helping minority and low-income “urban males” but would not exclude enrollment of other boys.
In New Orleans, the school is 99 percent African-American and 1 percent Vietnamese. According to testing data, the students at the school have improved in all tested subjects, with the largest gains coming in science and social studies.
“Many of our strategies are true for boys in general,” Hardrick said, “but there are definitely things that make us culturally competent.”
The school would be the first all- boys school in DPS. Last year, Girls Athletic Leadership School, the state’s first single-sex public school, opened in DPS.
Miller-McCoy has the blessing of former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and members of the black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi, including Community College of Denver dean of students Ryan Ross, who has agreed to serve on the board.
“Achievement is what this is about,” Webb said. “Decisions are easier to make with community support. I am one of those that stand by Miller- McCoy.”
The education committee of the Denver NAACP said in a statement that it, too, supports Miller-McCoy and a second proposed school for boys of color in the far northeast, Sims-Fayola International Academy.
“Our urgent need for the improved education of minority youth is what has prompted both petitions,” the committee wrote. “The Education Committee of the NAACP (Denver Branch) welcomes both new options as long as these, and any other new schools to the community, are sensitive to the populations they serve.”
Sims-Fayola has withdrawn its application, but organizers plan to resubmit in the fall.
The DPS staff has recommended giving Miller-McCoy two years of planning time before opening in fall 2013. The seven other proposed schools on tonight’s agenda would open in fall 2012 if approved.
Part of Miller-McCoy’s mission for grades 6-12 is to close the achievement gap between white and minority students within three years.
“In reaching this mission, we have to be deliberate,” Hardrick said. “Our program is specifically designed to remediate students in a short period of time because by the time they enter middle school or high school, many have already fallen behind.”
The school emphasizes business and mathematics and requires a course in entrepreneurship for all ninth-graders.
“We focus on those because we think it allows students to be problem solvers and critical thinkers,” said the school’s chief curriculum officer, Keith Sanders. “But we still have a strong comprehensive curriculum.”
The study also is interactive and hands-on.
“We create an environment that allows boys to move every six to 12 minutes,” Hardrick said. “We keep their hands busy to keep them from needing to touch, reach out or creating other class disruptions.”
To foster a feeling of brotherhood, students meet every morning for 15 to 20 minutes to celebrate one another’s accomplishments and hear from motivational speakers.
Some school leaders, including Sanders, are part of Kappa Alpha Psi, which has agreed to start a Kappa League youth chapter at the school, which will allow boys to be mentored by adult members.
“When you look at data, men are falling behind women in graduation rates, college-going rates, and when you break it down even more, it is African-American and Latino boys that are falling drastically behind,” Ross of Community College of Denver said. “An intervention is needed.”