A change in the District is coming. Chancellor Kaya Henderson of D.C. Public Schools, announced a plan in 2015 to invest 20 million dollars in new support programs for Black and Latino male students in D.C. As a part of this initiative and Mayor Bowser’s mission to help improve equity and increase opportunities for young men of color, the District plans to open its first all boys college prep high school east of the Anacostia River in 2017. Henderson selected Ben Williams to serve as principal for this new school.The first-time principal, a graduate of the University of Virginia with a master’s and doctorate degree within his educational arsenal, says he is committed to serving this all-male student body.
Many who question Williams’ ability to connect and impact students should be slow to judge. Born the son of a prostitute, who also happened to be a dope addict, Williams says this was no easy obstacle to overcome. Appearing before a group of students, Williams stressed the importance of being a male role model, what may be a first for them especially having never met his own father. In an interview with The Washington Post Williams said, “We are going to be addressing some of the social and emotional issues that come with being a young man in this society right now.”
A Washington Post column described D.C. as the “Wild West” claiming, “We have on our hands — in our neighborhoods, on our streets and maybe living next door — walking disasters: individuals who believe that their lives matter, but not yours or mine. Neither do our laws and institutions.” Chancellor Henderson’s ‘Empowering Males of Color’ initiative seems to want to be a part of the solution focusing on higher attendance rates and setting a clear path for college. According to DCPS, Black and Latino boys make up 43% of student enrollment with lower reading and math scores in comparison to their peers.
The road to excellence won’t be a easy one. Henderson’s plans for this all male school have come under attack by Council member Mary Cheh. Cheh requested that the D.C. Attorney General determine the legality of the school citing gender discrimination issues. Attorney General Karl Racine responded to this request stating that the school was not in violation of any anti-discrimination laws.Other than the critics of this new school, Williams is tasked with recruiting 450 students with an enrollment goal of 150. Admittance to this new school that has yet to be named is based on the D.C. lottery. The application deadline for the lottery is February 1st.
Hopefully with the support of the Mayor and others in the community waiting for solutions to a growing epidemic in the District, Principal Williams can help those deemed as walking disasters and get rid of the “Wild Wild West” for good.