Following the abrupt resignation earlier this month of Bernard Gassaway as principal of Boys and Girls High School, a group of community leaders called a private meeting on Friday at the school with its newly appointed principal, Dr. Michael Wiltshire to devise an emergency plan on how to bring the school back to a place of pride and distinction.
Over the past ten years, the school has journeyed far, far away from its glory days as “The Pride of Bed-Stuy.” But the group of community advocates, which calls itself the Boys and Girls Academy Advisory Board, is taking one last stab at trying to turn all of that around.
Attending the meeting with Dr. Wiltshire were former City Councilmember Al Vann; State Education Regent Dr. Lester Young; Lee Church, representing the office of Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; Stefani Zinerman, representing the office of City Councilmember Robert E. Cornegy, Jr; Richard Jones of Medgar Evers College Prep; Brenda Fryson, president of The Brownstoners, along with other Brownstoners members Gail Gaines, Marguerita Fletcher and Marilyn Reid.
In the last five years alone, under Gassaway’s leadership, enrollment at Boys and Girls has dropped from 2000 students down to 800, with three back-to-back F ratings from 2011-2013 and a graduation rate of 44 percent.
In contrast, after Wiltshire’s ten-year tenure as the former principal of Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in neighboring Crown Heights, the school boasted a 97 percent graduation rate, with almost 100 percent of its graduates going on to college.
The advisory board members hope to assist Wiltshire in bringing that same successful approach to pedagogy to Boys and Girls; their goal is to restore the high school as a place where parents will choose to send their children.
Aside from the leadership, another big change will be the name: Boys and Girls High School will now be called “Boys and Girls Academy.”
But not everything about the old Boys and Girls will be wiped away. Most of these same board members also worked closely with Gassaway in his efforts to return the school back to its esteemed days. And in many ways, they said, Gassaway made a lot of progress—efforts they plan to maintain and continue to build.
“As much as we appreciate what [Gassaway] did in the four and a half years he was here—and he did a lot— he chose to leave,” said Vann. “So it becomes a blessing in disguise that Mr. Wiltshire has chosen to step in. We will give him all of the support he needs, because we know that his model works.”
But will it work? Freshmen at Medgar Evers Prep enter the school following a rigorous screening process and as already some of the city’s highest academic achievers. Whereas, Boys and Girls accepts everyone, regardless of their academic or behavioral profile.
For Wiltshire’s part, he believes absolutely it can work: All students, provided the right tools, resources and guidance, can achieve any level of success, despite their academic background.
“Wiltshire’s model is a very rigorous academic model that he believes can be applicable here,” said Vann.
Wiltshire will continue to serve as a senior adviser at Medgar Evers Prep, but spend 80 percent of his time at Boys and Girls Academy— a move that will allow the two schools to share administrative and physical resources, as well as faculty development.
With little more than one month remaining before the citywide high school application deadline, the advisory board is moving quickly to push Wiltshire front and center.
The board will coin their effort “The re-birth of Boys and Girls Academy Through New Leadership,” a public relations campaign of sorts they plan to sell to parents with children in middle school; parents who are still undecided.
Wiltshire and the board will co-author a letter to parents next week inviting them to an open house that will take place at Boys and Girls High School in early November.
“The idea is that this is the new Boys and Girls high school,” said Young. “It’s important to get that message out.”