With less than two months left before the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, the Palm Beach County School District has finally found a home for the high-profile Roosevelt Leadership Academy for Young Men.
The all-boys middle school choice academy, which has about 60 incoming sixth-graders signed up, will be held this fall on the Roosevelt Middle School campus in West Palm Beach, Superintendent Wayne Gent confirmed Wednesday.
The decision appears to be calming, at least temporarily, the controversy that was sparked by school board members balking at the original plan of housing the academy at the Roosevelt Full Service Center. District staff said the center needed nearly $7 million in renovations.
While details on the academy remain murky, such as whether all of the students’ classes will be single-gender, Gent hailed the decision as a good move to help some of the county’s neediest children.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity this can present to address some of the challenges our African American and Hispanic males are facing,” Gent told The Palm Beach Post. He said this school year will be a pilot year for the program, which is slated to have an Afro-centric curriculum.
In May, board member’s concerns over paying the hefty renovation costs at Roosevelt Full Service Center led to a contentious board meeting where several commenters accused the board of not caring about the history of the center and its community.
Roosevelt Full Service opened in 1950 as Roosevelt High, an all-black high school. Proponents of holding the choice academy there had hoped the academy would restore the building as an academic force in the community.
Gent said Wednesday that the academy will not cost the district any additional money.
In May, Gent had said the academy needed 88 students by June 25 in order to be financially viable, saying that, if that goal wasn’t met, the academy “won’t open next year.” But this week Gent said the 88-student requirement was needed only if the academy were to have been held at the Roosevelt Full Service Center.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us to really try this,” Gent said. “(Single-gender programs) have been successful in other places. This can really help our students that need it the most.”
Roosevelt Middle is under capacity. As of last October’s count, the school was at 75 percent capacity, according to district records.
Reached this week, several board members said they were happy with the superintendent’s solution to place the academy at Roosevelt Middle.
“I want to be sure we’re not getting into a situation that sets us on a path that commits us to spending $7 million, but that doesn’t seem to be the case,” member Jenny Prior Brown said. “If we can go forward with a cost-effective single-gender program, I support that.”
Several community members said the placement was a step in the right direction.
“The goal is to still have it at the historic Roosevelt High School location,” said Lia Gaines, president of the West Palm Beach branch of the NAACP. “The middle school is a great interim location. It’s right next door.”
Gaines said several people in the community are working to get fundraising efforts off the ground to renovate old Roosevelt High.
Gent said the district will begin working to hire about four or five teachers for the choice academy immediately. The district will hold special trainings for them on single-gender teaching techniques in order to get them ready for the school year, he said.
School board Vice Chairwoman Debra Robinson, who has championed the leadership academy, said she is concerned about the short amount of time to get details finalized and teachers trained, but said the “enthusiasm is there” to get it done.