Edna Karr High School in New Orleans, LA continues to set the standard for excellence in public predominantly Black High Schools. For three consecutive years, the school has received an A grade by the Louisiana Department of Education.

While the current principal at Edna Karr is David Lewis, the recent success of the school is absolutely to the credit of its former principal, Harold Clay. Clay was recently promoted to a higher position within the Inspire Nola Charter School District as Director of High School Quality. “I think David is great principal and we are all on deck to help him continue to build the legacy of excellence that has begun at Edna Karr,” said Clay.

Clay says the environment of a school dictates the success of the school. “We had to create a climate of excellence. When they walk on the campus we want them to feel like they are in the best place on the planet,” said Clay.

When Black Boot News posted a video of Edna Karr’s 2017 Spring Graduation earlier this year, the school boasted more than $7M in scholarships from it’s graduating seniors for two consecutive years. More than 3M people watched and shared the excitement on Social Media. It was picked up by International News Media and made Clay one of the most sought after Principals in the country. It made all the sense in the world for Inspire Nola Charter to duplicate what he birthed at Edna Karr within all their other High Schools.

Edna Karr is the only public Black High School in the State of Louisiana that has received an A grade by the state for three consecutive years. Better yet, it is one of less than 5 public Black High Schools in the state with an A grade period. One of the others happens to be across town at Warren Easton High School, coincidentally Clay’s Alma Mater.

Edna Karr won the State’s Track Championship three years straight under Clay and for the past two years straight, the school has won the State Football Championship under a new Head Coach that Clay appointed during his administrative tenure as principal. The school’s band was featured in two Beyonce videos during Clay’s tenure and most recently the school was listed in the U.S. World News Report as one of the Best High Schools in Louisiana.

“I made sure our staff knew, working at Edna Karr isn’t a job. It’s a commitment. If they didn’t want to be actively involved in every aspect of the kids’ lives they would fail them. Not just in class but in life,” said Clay.

Former Principal, Harold Clay, sitting with graduates of Edna Karr High School in New Orleans.

Clay accredits the school’s commitment to Saturday On Campus Study, Free After School Tutorial (where the majority of the students and teachers volunteer to participate), and SAT/ACT prep which is offered free by the school. The school also made headline news during Clay’s tenure when Ellen Degeneres and Ashton Kutcher tweeted about their Pay for A’s program in which the school gave students $100 for A’s.

Students at Edna Karr don’t get normal breaks as other schools do. “On our breaks we take the kids to colleges. We literally load them up on busses and take them to visit colleges,” said Clay.

Wossman High School in Monroe, LA has experienced success in similar ways. Principal Eric Davis says the environment of the school is all about winning. “When students come to Wossman they know they are being prepared to win in life. We have structured many programs to enhance how they see themselves and how they view the world,” said Davis.

Eric Davis, Wossman High School

Predominantly Black High Schools in North Louisiana have struggled for almost a decade. Between Monroe and Shreveport, few predominantly Black High Schools have higher than a D grade by the state. While the majority of them are D and F graded schools, a handful have C scores.

In Monroe the only two public Black High Schools with with a C or better both happen to be on the Southside of Monroe and they are less than 5 miles away from each other. Richwood High School has a C grade but Wossman improved significantly from a D to a B grade school under Davis.

But Wossman not only improved academically, it also improved in many other areas. The school’s basketball team made it to the State Championship and all of it’s other extra-curricular programs grew tremendously. “When you create an environment of excellence it tends to permeate your whole program,” said Davis. “I’m not only proud of our students but I am also proud of our teachers and parents. They help keep the momentum consistent.”

Earlier this year, Black Boot News published a list of the Top 10 Most Outstanding Schools in Louisiana. Atop the list was T.M. Landry in Breaux Bridge, LA, a short distance from Lafayette. In Mid-December, T.M. Landry stormed the internet with videos of Seniors getting accepted into  Ivy League Institutions.

While T.M. Landry is not a public school it follows a similar trend. “The atmosphere in this school is all about College Prep. From the day they enroll here they don’t wonder IF they will get into college. They wonder HOW MANY colleges they’ll be accepted into,” said Mike Landry, Co-Founder of the private school that has a waiting list of more than 100 students.

While the internet was going crazy over it’s first video release, Landry uploaded another one. Then, another one. Then, another one. They just kept coming. Very shortly, international news media became interested in how most of the seniors in this small predominantly Black High School, in an area of poverty, was getting students accepted into such higher demand universities.

At T.M. Landry, the average ACT score is a 27. No senior has scored below a 24 on the ACT in three years. The school has witnessed more than $19M in Scholarships and it’s very first graduate, Tyler Benjamin of the Class of 2013, is now graduating at New York University’s Gallatin program as the Student Council President.

“We believe, not only must the kids be excited about their future but their parents must be equally involved and committed as they are. So, we demand parents to be active and engaged every step of the way. A real environment of learning must leave the school and also exist in the  home,” says Mike Landry, who started the school with his wife. “The climate of learning will never improve until Education becomes a community issue rather than just a single school issue. We are proud of our community partners, parents, and sponsors who work with us to provide the kind of environment which produces success.”

In Shreveport, none of the Black High Schools have above a C grade and most are below the C level. While there are many factors into why these schools are failing there is one common factor among the schools which are excelling… they all have visible Black Male Leadership.

Harold Clay, Eric Davis, and Mike Landry are all Black Men who serve as principles in these specific schools and neither of them had even noticed the trend. “I think it’s a very significant observation,” said Clay. Davis believes more Black Men are needed in the educational system in Louisiana.

“I went all the way through High School before I saw a Black Man in a principal administrative position. I only saw women. Strong women,” said Clay. “The women were great leaders. Back then – with exception of a few, men only held disciplinary positions or coaching jobs.”

Clay remembers Educator Shelia Thomas training him when he began as a teacher. “Mrs. Thomas taught me how important male role models are in the school system. You have to almost be a father to many of the kids,” said Clay. “You are their role model whether you want to be or not.” In 2014, Clay became the first Black Principal at Edna Karr in 50 years.

Davis and Landry agree, ‘it’s not just about knowing the kids’ names.’ Davis says, “It’s also about knowing what’s going on in their heads and trying to help them see where they fit in this world.” Only 2% of teachers in America are Black males. There are even fewer Black male principals.

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About Author

Ro Wright is the Co-Owner of Unboxed Possibilities. He and his wife, Sandria Wright, live in New Orleans and they are the founders of the Black Boot Network.

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