Charter school aims to change graduation rate for boys

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Renovations are underway at a building off Soutel Drive and once complete a Public Charter school will open its doors to over 200 African-American male students.

Valor Academy of Leadership CEO Tunji Williams explained in Duval County only one in three African American boys are graduating high school. It's a statistic that's alarming to Audrey Smith who has a son in the fourth grade.

"He's heading down that road, the one that you all are trying to keep him from going astray, he's going right on down to it,' said Smith.

Smith says it's hard to keep her son out of trouble and she worries about what will happen when he goes to middle school. The Valor Academy of Leadership is opening up the school in Northwest Jacksonville to target boys in the sixth and ninth grades, like Smith's son.

"It's really hard for them to transition from elementary to middle and it's the same thing from middle school to high school," said Williams.

The Public Charter will have single gender classes and aims to provide personalized learning to students in high poverty, high minority neighborhoods.

"We did a target market analysis and we found that a lot of the schools were low performing in this area, that's not to say that anything was wrong with the schools, it's that we know we needed to focus on this brand of kid right now," said Smith.

In a study conducted by U.S. News and World Report, at William M. Raines High School only 17 percent of students were proficient in reading, 27 percent proficient in math. Jean Ribault High School also in the area, had 24 percent reading proficiency and a 31 percent proficiency in math. Both schools are predominantly black and have over 60 percent of students on free or reduced lunch.

"The community spoke out, there was a call to action, we answered that call," added Williams.

Smith is thinking about enrolling her son at Valor when he reaches sixth grade. Every day she teaches and cares for toddlers up to preschool age at a daycare by Ribault and hopes schools like this one can prevent the local kids from becoming a statistic.

"Watching the way that they are coming up, you be like, 'Lord if somebody ain't out there trying to reach them to try and help them who is?'" added Smith.

The enrollment deadline for Valor Academy is May 30th. Then the school will do a lottery to randomly select 120 6th graders and 100 9th graders for the upcoming school year.


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