kingschool_web.jpgLAUDERHILL – The fate of an almost entirely minority Broward County public school could rest in the hands of a group of caring mentors who are racing to effect improvements and avoid its closure.

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, located at 591 NW 31st Ave., Lauderhill, scored an “F” grade on the most recent Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, or FCAT; only 27 percent of students are proficient in reading and 25 percent scored satisfactory or higher in math.

The highest grade the school has obtained is a C, which it got seven times since the state’s grading system began in the 1998-99 school year.

Almost all the students are minorities and 99 percent of them received free or reduced lunch meals, meaning they come from very low income homes.

“This is a school that has struggled with student performance,” said Principal Cheryl Proctor. “My focus is to improve the teaching practice and the learning outcome.”

Proctor became principal last July 1, one of many new administrators brought in to reverse the low academic performance.

 She is getting help from the Dream Academy, a free after-school program started at the beginning of the current school year to encourage students to improve their reading and writing skills and to motivate them to strive for their goals.

 Between 50 and 60 fifth-grade students are enrolled in the program which has separate tracks for boys and girls and works alongside Leadership Broward, an initiative that allows individuals from private organizations to join with nonprofit organizations to volunteer in the community.

John Hoolihan, project coordinator for The Dream Academy, said the program has also improved student behavior and lowered student disciplinary referrals from 20 to four.

“The goal is to bring up the scores and to motivate them for life and social change,” Hoolihan said. “We teach them to dream beyond their current situation and beyond what they see environmentally,” Proctor said.

The county’s top educator doesn’t think the school will close any time soon.

“Successes don’t happen overnight,” said School Superintendent Robert Runcie. “It requires hard work; it requires a really good plan, dedication, commitment, passion and a supportive community. We are working to make that happen at Martin Luther King.”

Runcie and District 5 School Board Member Rosalind Osgood spoke to Dream Academy students at a rap session on Jan. 7, talking about their life experiences. Max Andre, 10, a fifth-grader, said he liked speaking with Runcie and Osgood at the rap session and the lessons the Dream Academy has taught him.

“It will help me learn and give me a good education,” said Max, who was recognized as one of the top students in the Dream Academy in 2013. “It has taught me how to be a better boy.”

Max, who likes drawing, will be given an opportunity to expand his passion by working with a local artist.

Officials with the program say it needs more mentors from the community to work with students once a month for two hours.  

“Every single one of us in our community needs to be a mentor to some child,” Runcie said. “I think it is incumbent for all of us to embrace our young children and provide them with as much as we possibly can.”

“We can’t do it alone,” he added. “Partnering with the community, figuring out ways to engage people from all sectors of Broward County, is what we are all about. We are going to continue to support this program to the greatest extent that we can.”