WEST PALM BEACH – The two black members of the School Board of Palm Beach County have sharply differing views on a possible location for a proposed all-male academy which will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM).
The Roosevelt Leadership Academy for Young Men, pet project of Debra Robinson, the board’s vice chairwoman, will be geared to exposing black boys to the STEAM curriculum.
But Robinson and supporters of the project are hoping for another benefit. They are pressing for the academy to be housed in the former Roosevelt High School building at 1601 N. Tamarind Ave., West Palm Beach, as a way of bringing back at least a little bit of the cache attached to that school which opened in 1950 as an all-black high school.
But substantial renovations are needed before the proposed academy can start classes at Roosevelt High and even Robinson admits it’s a long shot getting the nearly $7 million so the site can be ready for an anticipated August opening.
The school district is facing a $56 million shortfall in its capital budget, meaning it’s highly unlikely officials will spend $7 million on one school.
An alternative is to open the leadership academy at a different location and eventually move to the Roosevelt High site, which Marcia Andrews, the other black board member, supports.
School Board members “all think this is a fabulous program. Everyone wants it. The renovation to Roosevelt is the only hold-up,” Andrews said.
She is confident the academy will eventually be able to locate to Roosevelt if it starts at another location.
“I believe we’re going to get it at Roosevelt,” she said. “Over time, it’s going to happen. We’re behind on capital outlay funding but I believe the school board and the community will find ways to come up with the money through projects and grants to renovate Roosevelt. It might not happen at Roosevelt now but it’s going to happen.”
Robinson does not agree. “If we start this program somewhere else, it’ll never move to Roosevelt,” she said.
Robinson has support from many residents. Several community leaders attended a recent board meeting and accused some members of not appreciating the significance of the academy’s being housed at Roosevelt. One by one, they cited the history of Roosevelt and the need for the new school to start at that location.
School Board member Frank Barbieri rejected any suggestion that racism was involved in the deliberations on the academy.
“I am disappointed that I and my colleagues, as a result of an orchestrated attack by one board member who disseminated false information to the community, were ridiculed and accused of being racists,” Barbieri was quoted in a Palm Beach Post article dated May 17. Barbieri did not name the member he was referring to. He claimed that the member made what he called false promises to the community to house the program at Roosevelt when it was nearly impossible to do so.
As the debate heats up, the issue could become moot. The academy must register 85 boys by June 25 before it can open this fall, as projected, and so far only 56 have been signed up. Classes would start at sixth grade level and each year a grade would be added up to grade 12.
“We continue to work on the vision,” Robinson said. “This is too important. We have to save our boys.”
Robinson and other supporters of the academy are asking those interested in signing up a sixth-grade boy for the academy to call 561-881-4740.