- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2000

NEW YORK Principal Gregory Hodge guards the entrance to Harlem's Frederick Douglass Academy like a pit bull.
The object of this no-nonsense educator's consternation: latecomers.
"Geez, nice for you to get out of bed," Mr. Hodge growls, crossing his arms in mock disgust and tilting his head disapprovingly as a student slinks in a little before 9 on a bone-cold, windswept Friday morning.
School begins at 8.
"I woke up late because I was studying," the student offers softly, knowing his excuse won't cut it with Mr. Hodge, New York City's own Andy Sipowicz of public education.
Like Detective Sipowicz, the curmudgeon cop of television's popular "NYPD Blue," Mr. Hodge, 46, is both gruff and deeply caring. He knows that if he doesn't keep a dogged, law-and-order watch over his more than 1,000 students in grades seven through 12, they may succumb to the evils of the 'hood that beckon a few steps outside the doors.
"The more you keep the street out of the school, the more you set the tone for instruction," Mr. Hodge says.
The principal is known to spend the night on a couch in his office, where he usually gets about 4 and 1/2 hours of shut-eye before rising again to greet his young scholars.
Last year, U.S. News and World Report named Frederick Douglass Academy one of the nation's 96 top public, private and parochial schools. Under its college-preparatory program, foreign language instruction is mandatory; many seventh-graders take classes in Japanese. Graduates were accepted by the likes of Cornell, Yale and the University of Chicago. Most received scholarships, the school's ultimate goal.
"They are there because they are qualified, not because they are minority," says Mr. Hodge, who grew up poor in Harlem and the South Bronx and was pushed to go to college by a high school counselor.
This series profiles Douglass Academy and two other public schools a charter school in tiny Durham, N.C., and a small Arkansas elementary in the heart of the Mississippi Delta where students excel even though they come from low-income families.
Each of the three uses a different method to get the best out of children. And each was identified by the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation as among the best in the country as part of the conservative think tank's push for higher standards in public schools.

The front door

The law of Douglass Academy is laid down the instant students step inside this three-story, 1950s-era building at the intersection of 149th Street and Seventh Avenue in a Harlem neighborhood that many cabdrivers refuse to service.
In the alcove are nine mirrors and several benches where students must adjust ties, skirts and shirts and change from street sneakers into regulation black dress shoes. Appearance here means self-respect, something Mr. Hodge learned as a boy.
"When I was young … there was a teacher who said to me that you may be poor, but you don't have to be dirty. This statement to me at the time seemed profound, and it helped me deal with my inability to purchase the playboy shoes and the alpaca sweaters that were then in style," he remembers. "I could go to school in skips" inexpensive tennis shoes "and cheap clothing and also be clean."
Now he passes on that lesson to students in similar circumstances.
"At the front door, you set the tone for the entire school day," says Mr. Hodge, who received his doctorate in education from Fordham University and makes no apologies for his role as fashion cop.
"Good morning, where's your shoes?" the principal inquires of one girl, who rolls her eyes, knowing she's busted. She has heard his spiel before and groans as he sends her to the office, where she will get detention.
"Get the do-rag off, monsieur," Mr. Hodge tells a youth whose urban headgear is not allowed.
"Kids used to kill each other over leather coats and Air Jordans. When we eliminate that, the focus is on education," Mr. Hodge says to a visitor, explaining a strict uniform policy that doesn't include $150 sneakers.
"By being here," he says of his early morning post, "I know every one of my kids by name."

Striving for consistency

Students whose applications are accepted by Douglass Academy must subscribe to its code of discipline and behavior.
"The 12 Non-Negotiables," as the rules are called, include punctuality, hard work, nightly homework and neatness. They require students to respect the building, wear the uniform to the letter and show identification cards when asked.
The children also follow a creed used by the traditionally black Morehouse College. It encourages personal and academic honesty, respect for others and concern for the feelings of classmates and teachers. It discourages bigotry and emphasizes learning from differences in people, ideas and opinions.
Douglass Academy strives for consistency in enforcement: When students are late, parents are called. If they get bad grades and don't pull them up, they could be sent to another school where their chances of doing well are dimmer.
Competition to get in is fierce. A waiting list is filled with hopefuls from all over Manhattan and faraway boroughs. Some students, who know the school's 96 percent record for college placement, commute by subway for up to an hour.
Fatimah Abdurrian, 17, rises at 5:30 a.m. so she can make an early train from lower Manhattan. A student tutor, she wants to study journalism at Ithaca College.
"At other schools, teachers are just there to have a job and earn a paycheck," says Fatimah, who has attended since ninth grade. "The teachers here are more for us than themselves. They want to teach."

A sense of direction

Students, Fatimah notes, "really take a responsibility in this school," lingering long after classes end and frequently on weekends and holidays.
"They want to stay because they know this place is about something," says Karole Turner Campbell, an actress and director who is one of 11 founding teachers.
In September, Mrs. Turner Campbell will open a second Douglass Academy for the elementary grades. This school offers a family atmosphere that supports children without coddling them, she says.
"They need to know that an adult is an adult and will give them a sense of direction," says Mrs. Turner Campbell, a 30-year veteran of teaching who also conducts parent workshops. "It's based on expectations here. If you have no level, the sky's the limit and kids can soar."
Mrs. Turner Campbell teaches a required course, "Whole-Life Education," that emphasizes how to study, think critically and criticize constructively.
"You come here because you have a mind, and we're going to work that mind," she says.
That philosophy is paying off.
"We don't give them any electives here. We tell them what to take, and that's what gets them into college," says Mr. Hodge, himself the holder of four master's degrees besides his doctorate.

'No limitations'

Frederick Douglass Academy, founded by maverick principal Lorraine Moore in 1991, has been led by Mr. Hodge since 1996. It is proving that low-income children, with appropriate instruction, can match any level of achievement.
Today, the school is regarded as among the best in the city and state, posting scores on New York's Regents exams that rival those of cross-town academic powerhouses like Stuyvesant High and Bronx Science.
"These are not children who take a test to get into the school," but rather children from the neighborhoods of central Harlem, says Reggie Landau, a senior fellow at the Center for Educational Innovation in New York City.
Mr. Landau calls Douglass Academy "a very special place" that thrives on the commitment of teachers, parents and students.
"These youngsters are committed to getting something out of the school," he says. "Once you realize that you can truly compete, there are no limitations."
Mandatory college visits begin in seventh grade. By the end of eighth grade, many students have earned four high school credits. At graduation, some will have earned 20 percent to 30 percent more credits than the state requires.
The school is a partner with corporations the Gap, HBO, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Con Edison among them that provide internships, mentorships, computers and other support.
Students frequently take trips abroad, including Italy, Israel, France, Japan and South Africa. For many, it is their first time out of the city, Mr. Hodge says.
The arts aren't shunted aside. Students are required to play a musical instrument and join the band. They get heavy doses of art. Many take courses in modern dance and ballet.
Music instructor Nat Dixon is a jazz saxophonist who leads his own band, the Harlem All-Star Quartet, and records original music. Painting and drawing are taught by Rodger Schermond, formerly an instructor at the Parsons School of Design, whose oils have been shown around the world.
In the wood-floored, mirror-lined dance room, instructor Arthur Saab calls out movements in French, chastising his young charges in red tights and T-shirts when their techniques fail to meet his standards.
"And a one and a two and a three and a four," the compact, chiseled veteran of the Martha Graham Ensemble repeats, his theatrical voice bouncing in staccatoed syncopation.
In the end, these young men and women go on to complete more demanding routines and he praises them as they head off to change.
"Good work, people," he exults. "Excellent job. Very nice."

Values of teamwork

Competition drives the school in class and on the playing field.
"We're trying to give them the best of both worlds, combining top-level academics with top-level athletics," says athletic director Pat Mangan, who teaches English and coaches boys' basketball and tennis.
With 19 clubs and 12 sports, including fencing, judo and swimming, out-of-class activities are a way of life here. The school is open seven days a week.
"We live in a competitive world, and the values of teamwork are essential," says Mr. Mangan, 38. "Working well with others sports can teach you that more than anything else."
Regina Rahim conducts her seventh-grade class in entrepreneurship in a computer lab.
As fellow future business owners gather around, student Stephanie Gibson, a shopping and sewing enthusiast, gives a Power Point computer demonstration on her company, Fly Fashions. She and classmates such as James Brown, the junior high proprietor of Jay's Sweet Tooth, will sell their wares at a "minimall" that is opening in a vacant classroom.
James, who with fellow business students has studied start-up costs, goal-setting and merchandising, is advertising his culinary delights. "The first 10 customers get free cupcakes and free cups of juice," he announces, hoping to drum up interest.

'Take these risks'

The entrepreneurship course, Mrs. Rahim explains, is unusual for seventh-graders but instills confidence and the importance of commerce in inner-city students who never may have considered they could run their own businesses.
Her students read the New York Times and take class trips to Wall Street, the Federal Reserve Bank and the wholesale district, where they research projects.
"These are youth who may have been impoverished, who are learning how to build businesses within their own community," Mrs. Rahim says.
Many already are dreaming big, talking about buying new homes for their mothers, she says. "They want to share in a legacy to leave wealth, not poverty."
Students also learn to be fearless, saying yes to hard work and acing advanced courses that they may not have taken without their teachers' support.
"There's nothing you have got to lose and everything you have to gain," says an optimistic Ted Clayton, 17, a big fan of physics who doesn't flinch from taking tough classes even if it means little sleep.
"I say, 'Take these risks and seize these opportunities,' " adds classmate Leilani Jackson, 17.
Ted, Leilani and other students say their lives revolve around the school, where activities fill their Saturdays and evenings constructively.

'I go after them'

That is exactly what Gregory Hodge wants to hear: Keep 'em busy and keep 'em focused. Otherwise, his young charges with eager faces, open minds and a world of potential could be swallowed up by the lure of easy money, deadly drugs and criminal elements.
"You gotta be rough," Mr. Hodge says, reflecting at the end of a day's classes. "If you're weak, they'll walk all over you.
"I'm like a hawk here: I see everything. You gotta watch the kids and enforce the values."
He pauses and then continues, a tinge of pain exposed in his eyes.
"Do we have gang members in this school? Of course we do. We got Bloods, the High Rollers, the Latin Kings," Mr. Hodge says candidly, before heading back into Sipowicz mode.
"But I tell them very clearly, they are going to college," he says.
"If they don't come to school, I go after them. I call, I go to their home. They better come to school."

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