Frustration is aired at forum on converting Dunbar 6th to all-boys academy

FORT WORTH -- A community forum about the future of Dunbar 6th Grade Center became heated at times Thursday night as Stop Six residents expressed frustration with school officials.

District administrators want to convert the Dunbar 6th building to an all-boys academy, similar to the all-girls Young Women's Leadership Academy that opened this school year on West Magnolia Avenue in the medical district.

Administrators outlined their plan to house a rigorous college preparatory program, open to all boys in the Fort Worth district, in the Dunbar 6th building. Neighborhood sixth-graders would attend Dunbar Middle School under the plan.

But first the school officials apologized for not explaining the plans to Stop Six residents before a trustee vote on the matter, which was initially scheduled for last month. Trustees delayed the vote after community concern erupted.

Superintendent Melody Johnson said Thursday night that she and her staff should have done a better job of communicating.

"We looked at it as something to give the community, not to take away," she said.

Trustee Christene Moss, who represents the Stop Six area on the school board, said she wanted the all-boys academy in her area because so many new programs went to other parts of the district, mostly west of Interstate 35W.

And she thinks it will be beneficial.

"I was trying to bring something I knew was good for the young men in this area," said Moss, who has visited single-sex schools across the country.

But some in the audience said they did not accept "superficial" apologies. Several dozen stood to show opposition to using the Dunbar 6th building for the all-boys academy.

Some were angry and yelled at the school officials. They demanded assurances that if the academy opens in the Dunbar 6th building, the needs of Stop Six children would be placed first.

The Rev. Mark Kirkland noted that the all-girls school requires a minimum 75 grade average. If that is the standard for the boys' academy, many east Fort Worth boys won't be eligible, he said.

"Those at the bottom are the ones we really need to save," Kirkland said.

Robert Ray, the district's chief of schools, said that entrance requirements have not been finalized for the all-boys academy, but that it won't be "elitist" or open only to top students.

The Dallas district plans to open an all-boys school in the fall, Ray said. Other all-boys schools have been successful, particularly an African-American school in Chicago where all seniors were accepted into four-year colleges last year.

Some speakers said the single-sex academy sounds like a good idea but questioned why it couldn't be located elsewhere. Dunbar 6th is special, they said, because of its teachers and programs.

"Why take away something that's helping our community?" said Sheina Young, a Dunbar High student who attended the sixth-grade campus.

The Dunbar 6th Grade Center, at 5100 Willie St., has historical significance to the predominantly black community. It opened as Sagamore Hill Colored School in the mid-1920s. By 1938, it was renamed the Paul Lawrence Dunbar Elementary-Junior High School.

It became a junior high/middle school in 1968 after Dunbar High opened, and it became a sixth-grade school in 1982.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700