Story by Michael Hubbard and Photos by Isaiah Williams
With teacher layoffs looming across the state, the Dallas Independent School District is embarking upon a historic moment in the educational history of the city. The Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy, an all boy’s school, will open its doors this August for the 2011-2012 school year. The Academy will be located in the heart of Oak Cliff under the leadership of Mr. Nakia Douglas.
A native of Dallas, Mr. Douglas accepted a four year scholarship to Livingstone College Center of Teaching Excellence after graduating from Lincoln High School. The most recent stops on the road to his current position included tenures as Principal of Maynard Jackson Vanguard School and for the last three years, Principal of A. Maceo Smith High School. Mr. Douglas was appointed Principal of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy in June of 2010 and he hit the ground running.
“I’ve had the opportunity this year to visit and research a lot of the campuses, including KIPP academies, St. Philip’s School and Community Center, Cistercian Preparatory School, Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, St Mark’s School of Texas and Bishop Dunne. I’ve traveled to Baltimore and will be traveling to Chicago and New York looking at best practices.”
The Academy will be considered a magnet school, but according to Mr. Douglas, the focus will be on college preparation. “We will have very strong components of College Prep there at the campus.” said Douglas. “All of the young men will be exposed to an advanced college prep curriculum and will study Latin in middle school and Mandarin and Spanish in upper school. In their 7th grade year we will double block their math and science, so as 8th graders they will take Algebra 1 and Biology.”
Initially The Academy will serve boys 6th – 9th grades. A grade level will be added each year until students are served through the 12th grade. For Mr. Douglas initially offering Middle School grades makes perfect sense. “Having worked at a middle school myself, those are very influential grade levels. We realize that all young people, whether male or female, go through a lot of physical and emotional changes during the middle school years. This is a perfect time to catch those young men that may have lost their enjoyment of education. “
Being an all boy’s school The Academy will undoubtedly attract some of the city’s best athletes, but Mr. Douglas is confident that a healthy balance will be struck between academics and athletics. “The primary focus on our campus is academics. Yes, we have attracted students who have aspirations athletically, but we will try to help them understand that there is life after their athletic competitions. “ Mr. Douglas went on to say, “We will re-focus those young men on decisions they have to make as students, first and foremost, and help them to realize that they are student-athletes, with all of the emphasis placed on student.”
In order to be considered for acceptance to The Academy, candidates will need to meet specified GPA requirements in their core classes and score in the 40 percentile on their norm reference exams (TAKS, ITBS). After the initial screening potential students will then be given a math and writing assessment. Due to the statewide budget cuts, teacher student ratios may be slightly higher than the 15-1 initially projected. But according to Mr. Douglas the ratios will still be lower than those at traditional public schools.
Mr. Douglas realizes the first year for The Academy will be very important and will set the tone for the schools future success. “This first year with our students we are going to be very intentional. One reason for proposing a small first year incoming class is that we want to build an endearing culture that will allow students to be successful not only this year but in future years.”
When asked what would be the biggest challenge in the first year of The Academy Mr. Douglas said, “I’ve always been an optimist. I always see a glass as half full and never half empty. So I always realize that through hard work and dedication you can achieve any goal that you set in life.” Mr. Douglas added, “So it is my anticipation that we will have a very successful first year with our young men because this work will not only be done by the faculty and staff but also by the parents and the community. “
Developing young leaders has not been the focus of DISD, especially when speaking of male students. Mr. Douglas is committed to changing that. “With the focus on leadership development we are working very diligently on not only helping our young men become future leaders for our communities, but more importantly our families should experience better siblings, better sons and eventually we hope to have better fathers and husbands for our families. “
After speaking with Nakia Douglas It didn’t take long to realize that he shares the same optimism as The Academy’s namesake. He also shares our President’s commitment to change. It’s safe to say that The Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy will not be doing business as usual when it comes to educating young men in DISD.
Michael Hubbard is a freelance writer in Dallas, TX and may be contacted at Mhubbard23@aol.com.