More Details on Proposed All-Boys Charter School

By Maureen Mespell
By Rachel Martin

March 1, 2012 Updated Mar 1, 2012 at 11:50 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – The founders of the Smith Academy for Excellence held an informational meeting, delving into the details of what their school will entail.

Thursday night, the community got a better glimpse into what's involved in the Smith Academy for Excellence (SAFE), the all-boys charter school proposed on the Southeast side in Fort Wayne. The Teen Center at the Renaissance Pointe YMCA was packed with interested parents and supporters. Founders, Thomas, Corey and Cameron Smith shared the entire school proposal, and laid out exactly how they’re going to cater to young men through education.

Thomas Smith, Chief Executive Officer, says they decided to name the school “SAFE” to not only incorporate their last name, but to emphasize their “learning environment will be safe for young men. Because a lot of places young men go are unsafe and they cannot grow,” he said.

Cameron Smith, Chief Operations Officer added, “A major contributor to a young man’s learning progress is a safe learning environment.”

Thomas has been an educator for 35 years. He’s taught at the elementary, middle and high school levels, and was a football and wrestling coach and administrator for FWCS. Corey Smith has been a 4th grade teacher at Abbott Elementary for eight years, and Cameron is a physical education teacher and Athletic Director at the Timothy L. Johnson Charter School for the past three years.

The Smiths say SAFE will be an elite and untraditional school that focuses on young urban males. They plan to have extended days where classes begin at 8 a.m. and finish at 2:45 p.m. with a mandatory after school remediation and mentorship program. Thomas says the schedules will be flexible and cater to the personal needs of the students, so some students can arrive earlier or later than 8 a.m. And, every morning will begin with an open discussion meeting so the boys “can get everything off their chest before class begins,” said Thomas.

Corey, Chief Academic Officer, says they plan to keep class sizes small with 22 students or less on the high school level, 15 students or less in elementary, and 12 students or less for kindergarten. All adults in the building will be “student-focused,” so teachers will have a demanding schedule. Thomas says they will try and hire as many male teachers as possible, but ultimately they will choose who is most qualified. Corey says these implementations will allow for more personalized learning and help achieve their goal of a 100 percent graduation rate.

Natasha Clark has an 11-year-old son and says she’s excited to see an all-boys program in Fort Wayne. She particularly likes the idea of a “student-focused” school because she says her son needs more guidance in the classroom.

“A lot of times the school systems have been failing the black male and males in general,” Natasha said. “They are going to tailor the program to the child and I think that's very important. A lot of times we have a very rigid system that children have to fit into and that's probably what some of the problems are.”

SAFE will still abide by the common core and Indiana State educational standards, and students will still participate in ISTEP, PSAT and SAT tests, as well as written assessments. Students will be taught a “word” or “quote of the week” and shown how that word or saying will impact their lives socially. “We will teach them how to think,” Corey said. “How people think effects how they act socially.”

The social aspect is another factor in their curriculum, as they will teach character development and service learning. The Smiths say research shows that students who participate in service have a greater chance of not dropping out of school. And, although SAFE is based on the same standards and values as Grace College, a faith-based institution, they cannot legally be a faith-based school, but will focus heavily on character development.

Larissa Martin has a teenaged son who will be a high school sophomore next school year. Although her son may not be able to attend SAFE, she says she thinks SAFE will greatly impact the community.

“The expectations for the school sound tremendous. It will be a great asset to the Fort Wayne community, particularly our [Southeast side] community with the character development and community service aspects, in addition to the academics,” Larissa said.

She feels a big difference will be made through the mentorship program. The Smiths say there will be numerous “Father/Mentor-Son” days where each student will be given one-on-one time with their father or mentor.

“A lot of young men, even ones with fathers in the home, they still need the mentoring, they still need to see men in positive and professional roles,” Larissa said. “So it sounds like this school is going to bring the community together.”

Another major factor—how the Smiths plan to discipline their students. They say they plan to teach young men to take responsibility for their behavior instead of punishing them. If a student acts out, he will be removed from the classroom and discuss his behavior with another teacher or mentor.

Cameron says "no sagging will be permitted,” as the young men could have a dress code that could require a suit and tie for high schoolers, and a collared shirt and slacks for middle school on down. They say they haven’t fully decided on that aspect, but there will definitely be “Dress to Impress” days where students will be required to dress up.

Thomas says "safe" will be a tuition-free school, and they will depend on grants, state funding, and donations from the community. Since SAFE is not officially authorized, they are not enrolling students—yet. A Public Hearing for SAFE will be held Monday, March 5 at 7 p.m. on the second floor auditorium of One Summit Square. The Smiths will present SAFE to authorizers who will vote. The Smiths urge the community to attend and give public feedback because that should help to sway the vote.

If SAFE is authorized, Thomas says they “will take any student who signs the dotted line.” All interested families and teachers are asked to visit the SAFE website to apply. For their website click on, “Smith Academy for Excellence,” under News Links on our homepage.

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