Frederick Douglass Academy
MANHATTAN NY 10039 Map
Frederick Douglass Academy
JANUARY 2012 UPDATE: Longtime Principal Gregory Hodges retired in December. His replacement, Joseph Gates, comes from IS 238 in Queens where he was principal since 2002. According to The Uptowner, parents were concerned about what would happen to the school after Hodges left after 14 years of Hodges at the helm. Hodges told them: “We have a good foundation. The school’s going to continue on. You have to believe in the kids and then you’ll be a good principal.”
2010 REVIEW: Few public schools in New York City offer the range of academics, arts and enrichment programs that Frederick Douglass Academy does. Students may study Japanese, grow plants in a roof garden, travel abroad, and take a significant number of Advanced Placement classes. The school offers art, music and dance during the day as well as after school and on weekends. Sports include Tae Kwon Do, lacrosse and fencing. Coursework is significantly accelerated, and students may take as many as four Regents exams by the time they finish eighth grade. The payoff for those who succeed is great: some graduates go on to Ivy League schools, often with substantial scholarships. "We try to give our kids everything they would have if they had went to Stuyvesant," says Principal Gregory Hodge [Hodges retired in December 2011].
On our visit, we saw students engaged in lively class discussions and teachers who seemed to be passionate and committed. Some of the teachers are graduates of Frederick Douglass Academy, dedicated to carrying on the school’s mission of preparing black and Latino children for college. The roof is equipped with a weather station and a radio telescope for the study of astronomy. There is a small recording studio for budding rappers. There is also an on-site collaboration with the Children’s Aid Societies African Male Initiative and Harlem Children’s Zone. The school has a fully staffed medical and dental office. The school sends kids on treks to other countries every year, with trips to Japan sponsored by a Japanese airline that was impressed that 400 African American students were learning Japanese.
Despite these resources, Frederick Douglass Academy is not for everyone. Some students, overwhelmed by the workload and rebelling at the strict discipline, transfer out. A significant number of students fail classes in ninth grade and about 20 percent do not graduate on time, which are two of the reasons the Department of Education gave the school a “D” on its 2009-10 Progress Report. Staff turnover is high. Teachers say that Hodge doesn’t invite them to share in decision-making and complain that order and discipline are uneven, according to DOE surveys. (The survey results are another contributing factor to the low grade on the Progress Report.)
Hodge makes no apologies either for his high standards or his combative style. He says he refuses to give passing grades to students who haven’t completed their coursework, and he defends his policy of forcing out teachers who disagree with his philosophy. “I don’t want anyone teaching African-American and Latino children who don’t believe they can learn,” Hodge told us. “If you are not behind them, I am not behind you.”
The high teacher turnover has caused some problems: One year, Hodge fired six science teachers, leaving a large gap in the science department. Young, inexperienced teachers struggle with classroom management, contributing to the perception students are unruly, one teacher told us. Students who are consistently disrespectful, late and negligent with homework receive detention and may be asked to perform community service on Saturdays. On our visit, we didn’t see any signs of disorder, although we did see some silliness among students. Hodge stopped and reprimanded a few boys who were running in the hall and swearing. Parents told us there are sometimes fights outside of school.
On the positive side, FDA excels in college counseling, and regularly has students picked for scholarships from the Posse Foundation, which sends young people to top universities. There are two full time college counselors and on part time counselor. More than 90 percent of graduates are admitted to four-year colleges.
Special education: FDA has self-contained classes and Collaborative Team Teaching.
Admissions: Preference is given to students from District 5 who score levels 3 or 4 on standardized tests. Students with lower scores and those from other districts are also admitted. (Jacquie Wayans, December 2010)