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Education Trends: DISD Readies First All-Boys School

Some parents and students of Obama Academy. Principal Douglas, is 3rd from left, front row
Some parents and students of Obama Academy. Principal Douglas, is 3rd from left, front row

By Bill Zeeble, KERA News

Dallas, TX – For the first time ever, the Dallas Independent School District opens an all-boys school this month. Officials hope the Obama Leadership Academy will do for boys what the DISD's Irma Rangel all-girls school has consistently done for girls. Since opening in 2008, it has graduated stellar students, from a top-ranked campus. KERA's Bill Zeeble visited the new boys school.

Nakia Douglas is giving one of many tours of this new school to incoming students and their parents. He's the principal at DISD's Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy. It'll teach grades 6 through 9 with plans to expand later. Douglas was chosen in part because he used to be the kind of student this school wants.

Nakia Douglas, Principal: I was that child that I would work if I knew the teacher believed in me. But at the same time, I had a hunger and desire for more. A lot of our young men have that hunger and desire and ability now.

Department of Education research shows 70 percent of students getting D's and F's are boys. 80 percent of high school dropouts are too, and the same percentage of those with behavioral problems are boys. Studies say boys mature more slowly than girls, and learn in different ways. There's the age-old argument that boys are distracted enough by girls that it interrupt learning. Dallas officials looked at the success of the Irma Rangel all-girls school - rated exemplary every year since it opened - and said if it works for girls, why not for boys? Kendell Keeter's daughter just graduated from Rangel.

Kendell Keeter: Our thought was to also give our son an opportunity that would best prepare him for college in the same manner she was prepared, and I can't imagine any other option that would have prepared her better.

It's what a lot of these parents, like Madeline Hayes, say they are looking for.

Madeline Hayes: This is something, as cheesy as it sounds, but what I've always dreamed about, that there will be a boy's school that doesn't' charge $25,000 a year, but would give the same academics, the same level of interaction and leadership.

Obama Academy students must get good grades and pass the battery of academic tests required by magnet schools. It offers standard courses, but also Latin, Mandarin, Spanish, and aviation classes. There will be college preperatory courses, and, says Douglas, weekday and weekend leadership sessions.

Douglas: We want to open up an opportunity where our young men grow together. But all young men we call brother. So it may be Brother Malyk Davis, Brother Sam Keeter. The young men understand they are their brother's keeper. And so the young men are really learning to be responsible not only for themselves but also for their brothers here at the campus.

Madeline Hayes's son, Kelvin, wants it all. He's 12, entering 7th grade.

Kelvin Hayes: I've always wanted a higher academic purpose, always wanted somebody to challenge me, when I make mistakes I can learn from them. Then classes like science, computers, robotics, I enjoy them, especially robotics, building new technology. Because when I grow up I want to be an engineer.

When 14 year-old Malyk Davis grows up, he wants to cook. He's already been mentored by a professional chef and will study culinary arts at Obama. That's the upside. But the DeSoto resident still isn't sure about the boy's-only aspect of the school, or the neighborhood's safety, based on what he's heard.

Malylk Davis: I was thinking about, like, "I'm going to an all boys school. Am I going to be able to deal with this?" Plus it's in Oak Cliff, that's another thing. But once I began to look at the options that they were having, I think I'm really going to enjoy this. It's going to be a long and tough road, but end up, as long as I'm graduating in 2015, that's all that matters to me.

That's not all that matters to the district. Administrators hope to learn from students here what works best for boys. They can then apply what's learned to co-ed campuses. Parent Kathy Keeter says why wait?

Kathy Keeter: I think when you have faculty & staff that understands boys, and how they're brought up and the differences between boys and girls, especially during middle school, because that's a time when they struggle for identification to find out who they really are. I really like they're looking at kids and what can they do to make them the best young men that they can be.

Unlike Dallas' other magnet schools, officials left a 10 to 15 percent window open for promising students who do not meet all academic requirements.

Principal Douglas says character also counts. The DISD's boy's academy opens August 22nd, with 217 students. When there's room, it lets in students from other districts.

Email Bill Zeeble

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