By Ivan Thomas
Green Tech High Charter School in Albany, NY just celebrated the graduation of its senior class last weekend, continuing to silence critics of charter schools and those who deem it a waste of time to invest in urban, at-risk black boys.in Albany, NY just celebrated the graduation of its senior class last weekend, continuing to silence critics of charter schools and those who deem it a waste of time to invest in urban, at-risk black boys.
At the center of it all is Dr. Paul Miller, Green Tech’s passionate Principal and CEO, who has worked tirelessly since 2012 to place his boys (97% black males, 87% from poverty-stricken backgrounds) on a path to success. The results have been extraordinary, with 95% of students earning their diplomas and 100% of graduates being accepted to college from the all-boys school.
Needless to say, the system and culture of Green Tech would be well served as a model for failing urban schools around the country. They should pay attention.
“When I came in, there were many issues at the school that needed to be addressed from a financial and educational aspect. Also, the mindset of the students wasn’t where it needed to be,” Dr. Miller said. “There was a lot of apathy towards education. My staff and I had to work to change the climate and the culture. It definitely wasn’t easy, but the results of the work are evident. We are a living example that it can be done.”
According to a Stanford University study, nearly 50% of black boys are dropping out of U.S. high schools. Some schools have been able to solve the dilemma, but most urban school districts are still begging the questions – ‘How do we get our students more engaged and performing at the level they should? How do we get them to stay in school?’
“You have to truly care about your students to really help them. They have to understand that failure is not an option. I hate to say it, but there are a lot of teachers out there who are going through the motions,” Dr. Miller said. “We purposefully develop relationships with our students. Our teacher training programs are focused on educating the urban child and cultural awareness. The first few weeks of school are on relationship-building rather than instruction. We also have a lyceum model on character development and we pair students with an adviser that remains with them for all four years.”
His point? “You must establish a strong connection with your students where they see you as someone they can trust and listen to. This opens the door for learning,” he said.
Present-day media is inundated with images of young black men getting into trouble, being treated unjustly, and far too many, losing their lives before they ever really start. In a world where poor, disadvantaged black boys are frequently written off as failures and trouble makers, Green Tech High Charter School is showing what the phrase “it takes a village” truly means.
“Our kids are taught that Green Tech is a family and the Albany community is their home,” Dr. Miller said. “We have our pay-it forward program where we do random acts of kindness throughout the year. We feed people, we are involved in breast cancer awareness for women….recently we raised $25,000 for a former student of ours who was battling cancer.”
He added: “This year we also organized a non-violence week with the Albany Police Department which allowed our young men to connect with officers, discuss concerns and bridge the communication gap. From that, we have established a cadet program that exposes our kids to that career so they can make an impact in their communities. We don’t take it easy on our students because our top priority is for them to graduate, go to college and to become successful men.”
Moving forward Dr. Miller plans to travel the country to train struggling schools on how to establish a culture of success. By following his blueprint, he believes schools will see dramatic improvements in student performance within the first year.
For more information on Green Tech High Charter School, visit the website at www.greentechhigh.org. Also, Dr. Paul Miller can be followed on Facebook at @PaulMiller.EdD or on Instagram at @docmiller42. Check out his Tedx speech entitled “We Need to Do Better” above.