The Kings of Washington DC Public Schools
Rising Kings is a three-part audio series from Education Week/NPR that highlights Ron Brown High School, a new male college preparatory high school in northeast Washington DC. At Ron Brown, none of the young males is referred to as boys or students, but rather “young kings.” Last year, Ron Brown opened its doors to a class of about one hundred new freshmen. The majority of the students are African-American or Latino. The plan for the school is to add a class each year so that by the time the class of 2020 graduates, they will have a full school. Currently, Ron Brown is the only single-sex public high school in the DC-area. This school is a result of an investment of $20 million dollars to the DC Public Schools “Empowering Males of Color” initiative.
Currently, Ron Brown is on its second year with a 95% returning rate and a new class of freshmen. The students are admitted through the D.C. public school lottery process. There is no academic or behavioral requirements for admission and the school’s goal is to educate all no matter what the student’s background may be. Each student enters the school with an individual education plan to ensure they are receiving the best support they each need to be successful.
The staff at Ron Brown is 60% male and 40% female. Majority of the staff are African-American. Principal Benjamin Williams said that the success of the school lies within the staff. He said, “This is their mission work and the staff must be aligned with school’s mission of helping young men of color continue to grow and be successful while in school and be prepared for life after school.” The staff are required to get acquainted with the student’s personal and home lives. They help the parents understand that it will take a team approach to help their sons be successful. Ron Brown focuses heavily on developing the students' social-emotional skills, which the staff believe is the foundation of learning. Ron Brown staff also make up an in-depth "CARE" team which includes a psychologist, a social worker, and counselors. It’s the CARE team’s job to keep students on-track both emotionally and academically.
At Ron Brown, the students start their day with a school-wide circle. In these circles, the young kings have conversations about their neighborhoods, the media, violence, protests and poverty. The young men of Ron Brown are working to become men of high character, academically curious, and servants of their communities. The school offers a rigorous liberal arts program, providing the academic skills to be successful after graduation. Principal Williams hopes that these young kings will return to the DC area and use those newly learned skills and attributes to help the next generation of young kings.
Ron Brown has an unusual approach to discipline. They refuse to suspend or expel a child. Instead, they focus on “restorative justice.” According to Edweek.org, Restorative Justice (RJ) is a powerful approach to discipline that focuses on repairing harm through inclusive processes that engage all stakeholders. When implemented well, RJ shifts the focus of discipline from punishment to learning and from the individual to the community. Students are forced to be held accountable for their actions. Principal Williams said he is trying to help break the school-to-prison pipeline.
The foundation of Ron Brown is centered upon love. Everything they do is centered in love for the young kings and love for how far they can go in life. The goal is to build relationships and then use those same relationships to give back to their D.C. community. This is a new approach to educating male students of color and it will be interesting to follow this story and see if Ron Brown High School has found the recipe for success for young men of color.