An Example of Organizational Execution in the African-American Community: Detroit’s Marcus Garvey Academy

Students at the Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit are taught self-esteem, respect and cultural values along with reading, writing, arithmetic and other academic skills. The school is open to anyone in the Detroit Public Schools district.   (RASHAUN RUCKER/Detroit Free Press)

Students at the Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit are taught self-esteem, respect and cultural values along with reading, writing, arithmetic and other academic skills. The school is open to anyone in the Detroit Public Schools district. (RASHAUN RUCKER/Detroit Free Press)

Yesterday’s post showed an example of the management challenges within the African-American community as represented by the problems swirling around the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  Equal time must be given to those who execute and do it well.

Here’s a story from the Detroit Free Press about an Afr0-Centric charter school and its successes in its students performing better on statewide standardized testing  than those attending Detroit public schools.  This is an example of organizational execution on a mission focused objective and the educators who put this together really need to be commended.

At Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit, the week begins with the recitation of black history facts followed by the sounds of drummers summoning students to an assembly.

Students sing the black national anthem and recite the school creed, which starts, “I will have faith in myself. … I can learn! I will learn! I must learn!” This is before any reading, writing and arithmetic

Garvey is an African-centered educational environment, and in 2008, its students outperformed the state average in most categories on the MEAP. Three other African-centered schools in Detroit serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade fared better than the Detroit Public Schools average.

Staff, parents and students at Garvey credit the school’s Afrocentric curriculum for setting high expectations and instilling the self-confidence that students need to excel.

Proponents of Afrocentric schools maintain that these schools represent a solution to achievement and discipline problems in urban districts like Detroit Public Schools. African-centered schools outperform others because of their family-oriented environment, said Haki Madhubuti, a nationally renowned educator.

“It is critical that you love yourself. … If you have humanity, you don’t go out and shoot people,” he said.

Afrocentric schools focus on pride

Students at Garvey must walk on a stripe called the green line to success, painted on hallway floors. They must stand and say, “Jambo,” a greeting in kiswahili, to any adult upon the elder’s first visit to their class.

And every subject and bulletin board includes mention of African or African-American history or culture.

Principal James Hearn maintains that the character development, high expectations and discipline embedded in the African-centered curriculum and culture at Garvey can transform other Detroit public schools.

“When you show them you’re not playing, they conform,” Hearn said of students.

Open to anyone in the Detroit Public Schools district, Garvey has surpassed DPS and state scores on the MEAP in many areas, despite moving and merging three times in the last eight years and high poverty rates among students. More than 86% are economically disadvantaged.

Educational villages

Garvey is among five African-centered schools in the district that serve students in kindergarten through eighth grades. All are named for African Americans; the others are Catherine C. Blackwell, Malcolm X, Paul Robeson and Erma Henderson. Garvey opened in 1991 after research showed the benefits of an Afrocentric educational program.

All of the schools except Henderson met annual yearly progress standards last year, and the Skillman Foundation has recognized Garvey, Malcolm X and Blackwell in its Good Schools campaign that awards well-performing schools with grants of up to $100,000. At the same time, 31% — or 51 of 163 eligible DPS buildings — met annual yearly progress standards last year.

As DPS faces crippling enrollment declines and the nation’s worst test scores and graduation rates, proponents of African-centered schools maintain that these schools represent a solution to DPS’s achievement problems. The goal of Afrocentric education is to infuse pride and self-determination in the students — nearly all of whom are African American, Hearn said.

The schools use the Nguzo Saba — the seven principles of Kwanzaa, a celebration of heritage and culture — and an Egyptian values system, while also incorporating African and African-American history into daily lessons. There also are rites of passage programs that include manhood and womanhood training.

Haki Madhubuti, a nationally renowned author and educator who helped train teachers when African-centered schools were being established in DPS 20 years ago, co-founded four Afrocentric schools in Chicago. He said the schools work because they are set up to be an extended family and though secular, they operate similar to parochial and Jewish-centered private schools.

“We demonstrate that it is critical that you love yourself,” he said. “Most certainly, we’re not anti-white. We’re not anti-anybody. We’re just pro-black people, pro-progressive people. Some of our teachers are white.”

Freda Dawson, principal at Malcolm X, agreed that the family structure within the school is paramount. At Malcolm X, students call the teachers “Mama,” meaning mother in kiswahili, or “Baba” meaning father. Parents sign a covenant, promising to do three hours of service a month for the school or in the school; if they fail, the staff can ask their child to leave the school.

“The combined efforts of parents, community and staff is definitely a plus for making our kids successful,” Dawson said, adding that most parents abide by the covenant.

Schools models for others?

Experts who have studied DPS’s educational plans have noted the success.

A 2005 governor’s Transition Team report recommended expanding the use of African-centered education in DPS. And a 2008 Council of the Great City Schools report on DPS said “the district has an African-centered program that can be interwoven into all content areas.”

And now, DPS’s newly appointed central administration is reviewing the schools’ curriculum — amid requests for expansion to include a high school — to determine whether it should be expanded, and whether it is the staff or curriculum or culture that makes the schools succeed.

Last summer, when 29 Detroit public schools closed, Garvey moved to the former Butzel Middle School building and ballooned from 265 students to more than 700, with 30 to 35 children in a class. The school’s challenges also grew — there are now enough special-education students to fill nine classrooms. In addition, kids from warring gang territories merged into the school and now sit side by side.

“The first few months, we were … constantly breaking up fights,” said school social worker Ifetayo Chaffin.

But after four months of a consistent infusion of discipline, affirmations, African and African-American history and nurturing, the pulse has calmed, students said.

“It’s more structure,” said Briana Grayer, 13, who attended Butzel before Garvey moved in this fall.

Valencia Thompson, 13, who is applying to top private schools in the region for high school, said the school has taught her not only academics, but pride and respect.

“It grows on you,” said Valencia, who has attended the school for three years. “It builds a culture of courage and shows you where you came from, the respect and the things they teach you, you do it wherever you go.”

Commitment to kids, community

The staffs’ commitment keeps the schools going, said Victor Gibson, a teacher at the school. “When they find out we will go the extra mile, and we become your mama and daddy — literally — kids and parents buy in,” Gibson said.

Those who don’t get the Afrocentric atmosphere — the red, black and green lockers representing the blood of black people, the green land of Africa, posters of famous African Americans and African customs — wash out, said Hearn. Disruptive students and parents have been kicked out.

Nayma Appling continues to bring her seventh-grade son, Kyle, to Garvey even though its move means a longer drive. She said the affirming atmosphere makes a difference with children.

“I see it in their eyes, the encouragement,” said Appling, who volunteers three days a week at the school.

Hearn said some teachers and parents this year had to be convinced that African-centered education would work — but it helped that this year, the school has offered free uniforms and coats, food baskets, free eyeglasses for students and H1N1 flu vaccines.

“The community buys into what we’re doing because we’re taking care of them.”

Teacher Roy Ferrantini has worked in the building for the past 35 years and also notices a change.

“Parents and children do react to high expectations,” he said. “Every school must offer hope.”

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