Bronx Leadership Academy High School
BRONX NY 10457 Map
Bronx Leadership Academy High School
Bronx Leadership Academy was founded in 1993 by South Bronx educators, church leaders and parents who wanted a safe, small, community-minded high school with high academic standards. BLA keeps those founding ideals in mind as it pushes students toward graduation and beyond in a close-knit setting designed to keep kids on track. The school isn’t perfect (about one in four kids don’t graduate), but serious-minded BLA students enjoy a level of attention and support rare in many Bronx schools.
“After only a few days at the school, people call BLA a family,” said Kenneth Gaskins Jr., who started teaching at BLA in 1994 and became principal in 2003. Four teachers are school alumni, and Gaskins’ two daughters both work at Bronx Leadership Academy II (a high school founded in 2002 with largely the same ideals).
Since 1996, BLA has been located two blocks south of the Cross Bronx Expressway amid the auto repair shops of gritty Webster Avenue. The two-story building, originally a warehouse, has narrow halls and lacks an auditorium (assemblies take place in the cafeteria), but it also lacks dispiriting metal detectors at the front door. Instead, administrators greet each student with a smile. Teachers often take turns sharing the windowless classrooms, which are largely devoid of decorations or other personal touches. On the upside, the small library is slowly being converted to a computer-equipped media center.
The school has a small gym but no outdoor space, which means softball and soccer teams play at local ball fields, and softball is sometimes practiced after hours in hallways. “That’s one of the amazing things about the kids — they’re very adaptable,” said Assistant Principal Ivan Yip.
BLA’s strictly enforced dress code calls for a white collared shirt, black dress shoes, and black or navy blue pants or a knee-length skirt. Boys must wear ties. Baseball caps are confiscated, and the principal keeps a large collection of contraband caps in his office.
The school features a full range of core academic courses as well as electives in art, music, photography and theater. Criminal law is a required course. After school, students have their choice of 16 clubs as well as homework assistance. Spanish is the only foreign language offered, even though a high percentage of BLA students speak Spanish at home.
BLA’s record of academic success is far from perfect, but it’s better than most Bronx high schools. Most 9th-graders arrive performing below grade level, and about one in four students don’t earn enough credits for a diploma. (Fifth-year students can earn missing credits by taking evening classes at the Young Adult Borough Center.) The school offers only a handful of Advanced Placement or Honors courses, and some students told us that they wish BLA had more challenging academics. Some students “don’t take it seriously,” said Genesis, a 15-year-old student. “There’s so many lazy people who are really smart.”
Gaskins said he wishes he had more flexibility to separate “those who really want to learn from those who don’t.” That aside, Gaskins said the school sets high expectations and promotes the idea of college, including posting students’ acceptance letters among the college-minded hallway displays. “We meet the kids where they are, and we do what we’ve got to do to get them college-ready,” he said. Graduates have typically gone to two- and four-year city and state colleges. The school’s 40 teachers have on average about eight years of experience, and turnover is relatively low (about two or three new faces in a typical year).
Special education: About one in five BLA students has special needs. The school has self-contained classes plus Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classes. BLA also has Special Education Teacher Support Services (SETTS). Teachers can require that struggling students attend after-school tutoring sessions.
Admissions: BLA accepts students from Districts 9, 10 and 12. The school accepts about 150 students into 9th grade from roughly 2,000 who list BLA among their top three high school choices. As part of BLA’s Educational Option program, half of its students are chosen by the school, based on factors such as middle school attendance (more than 10 or 15 absences or tardies “raises a red flag for us,” Yip said) and whether students have attended a tour. Grades factor in but are less important. The other half of the incoming class is chosen by the Department of Education, which often gives priority to students who rank BLA as their No. 1 choice. (Skip Card, October, 2012)