National coalition honors outstanding schools

Nathan-on-Education-newWith racial diversity growing in many suburban and rural areas, several recent awards are especially important. The National Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color, online at, has recently recognized five outstanding district and charter public schools, including one in Minnesota.

Coalition Director Ron Walker has spent 42 years as a public teacher and principal and won numerous awards. Walker wisely is not interested in which are better, district or charter public schools.

“We focus on our mission: to identify schools that are succeeding, whether district or charter, with young men of color,” he said. “We want to inspire, strengthen, support and connect school leaders who are dedicated to the social, emotional and academic development of boys and young men of color.”

The Best Academy, a Minneapolis charter, was one of the schools recognized. Minneapolis Public Schools Supt. Bernadeia Johnson wrote that Best “has an impressive record of educating black boys at the highest levels of achievement, outperforming all other schools in Minneapolis and across the state. … Best is a beacon of success and achievement.”

(Full disclosure – the Center for School Change, where I work, has partnered over the past few years with Best as part of a Cargill Foundation funded project.)

Attorney Jeff Hassan also endorsed the school, in part because of his grandson, Malik.

“Once he entered the public school system in the suburb where we live, he did not continue to grow and prosper.

“Malik was a distinct ethnic minority in his classrooms, and his teachers seemed to have an indifferent attitude toward him and his ability. Teachers did not appear to have the empathy that he needed to grow and develop. … He reported that his teacher often would not call on him in class, despite his raising his hand.

“In addition, (we) did not see that he was receiving the academic rigor that we expected, and homework was not being sent home despite our requests. … When Malik entered Best Academy in the fifth grade, he was scoring in the 60th percentile in statewide reading and math assessments.

“By the time he graduated from Best Academy in the eighth grade, he was … in the 90th percentile in reading and math. … His eighth grade all boys class scored 100 percent proficient on the statewide Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment reading test, and scored in the 80th percentile in math, almost 50 percent higher than the statewide average. … When Malik entered high school … he tested out of ninth grade math and English, and was placed in advanced level classes,” Hassan said.

The Coalition also honored Jonas E. Salk Elementary and Merrillville High School, both in Merrillville, Ind., a suburban and rural area about 45 miles south of Chicago. Salk enrolls about 650 students, grades K-4. About 60 percent of its students are from low-income families, 46 percent are African American, 25 percent are white and 18 percent are Hispanic.

Salk Principal Kara Bonin, a 22-year public education veteran, told me that “culture and climate are key” to the progress that the school has shown. “We model and encourage students to be respectful, responsible and safe,” she said.

The school uses videos to help students understand what expected behavior looks like.

The principal noted that 97 percent of students are passing the state’s tests. But “character also is very important. … Every Monday we have a school-wide meeting where we celebrate student achievements.”

The school promotes community service. Students have, for example, raised money for a children’s hospital and held food drives.

The two other schools of the five total honored are Devonshire Elementary School in Charlotte, N.C., and Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C.

Joe Nathan, is director of the Center for School Change in St. Paul. Reactions are welcome at [email protected].