Op-Ed: Proposed A.C. Charter School is Desperately Needed

I am very excited to announce my support for The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys, a new school that our community desperately needs. If approved by the New Jersey Department of Education, this innovative educational institution would be the first single-gender charter school in the state and has plans to open in August 2018.

The Founder of The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys is Ricardo Belgrave. He is an educator in the Atlantic City Public School System for almost 10 years, who was born and raised in Atlantic City.  Mr. Belgrave knows firsthand the impact that male teachers can have on the lives of our city’s young men. During one of the most important times of his life, Mr. Belgrave had the support of Mr. Marvin Hill, his 6th grade teacher, who provided him with the necessary tools he needed to grow both inside and outside of the classroom. Now, Mr. Belgrave seeks to provide the young men of Atlantic City with an entire school dedicated to providing support at each grade level in the same way Mr. Belgrave had in 6th grade.

The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys will serve Atlantic City’s young men, led by male teachers and role models. And our community is responding with great support and excitement – hundreds of parents, community leaders, faith leaders and others have signaled their support for the school with letters and a survey with over 1,000 participants that has shown over 85% of those surveyed giving a positive response to the idea of a single-gender charter school like this in their neighborhood.

One of the most exciting aspects of The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys is the possibility to have the first single-gender public school in the state of New Jersey. There are single-gender charter schools in other cities like New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago and these schools have existed to provide boys with a customized education that helps them become successful 21st century men.

The data demonstrates that this is desperately needed – males are two times more likely to be classified into special education than females and graduate from high school and attend college at lower rates.[1]  On the 2016 New Jersey PARCC exam, females outperformed their male counterparts in every tested grade level in both Language Arts Literacy and Mathematics.[2]

While economically advantaged families benefit from the choice of single-gender educational options, many of our working families cannot afford a private all-boys education option and are left with schools that do not serve the needs of their children. There are too many men who come out of our inner-city public schools ill-prepared to pursue a career, higher education, and the skills necessary to provide for a family. The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boy has an incredible opportunity to change these dynamics.

Innovative strategies including both early instrumental intervention and an intense male mentorship program are the types of practices that can improve the futures of young men in Atlantic City and elsewhere. These strategies coupled with a longer school day and a longer school year – are factors that have been proven to have a “meaningfully positive impact on student proficiency and improve upon a child’s entire (educational) experience”, according to the National Center on Time & Learning.

Students will also benefit from early reading interventions. Strategic planning and research will inform an individualized education plan for each and every student that is not reading on grade level. By using this approach, it is part of the school’s mission to close the literacy gap between males and females and have at least 85% of their students reading on or above grade level by the 3rd grade.

Many people believe we must be patient and allocate more resources to district schools and give them time to improve. The families of Atlantic City can’t wait any longer – too many young men are falling through the cracks. The time for equal access to high quality schools and reform is and always has been right now.

I urge the New Jersey Department of Education to give The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys the opportunity to serve the young men of Atlantic City by approving their Phase 1 application and allowing them to move on to Phase 2. I also urge New Jersey’s Acting Commissioner of Education Kimberly Harrington and our Governor Chris Christie to encourage other single-gender charter schools like The Frederick Douglass Charter School for Boys to offer similar innovative pedagogical practices for many more students of this great state of New Jersey.

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[1] New Jersey Department of Education (April 7, 2017) – http://www.state.nj.us/education/specialed/data/2015/6_21FAPE.pdf
[2] New Jersey Department of Education (April 10, 2017) – http://www.nj.gov/education/schools/achievement/16/parcc/spring/Grade0308.pdf

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About the Author

Jesse O'Leary Kurtz
Jesse O'Leary Kurtz
JESSE KURTZ is the 30-something Republican councilman for Atlantic City's historic 6th Ward.