Some of you might know Jabali Sawicki. His photograph graced the cover of the FYSP catalog for 2006-7. He’s the one at the top, looking out on the world with a mixture of confidence, determination, and amusement. Those of you who were around here in the late 1990s might remember Jabali. He was the guy who traveled nowhere without his boom box; naturally enough, the boombox came with him when he marched for graduation.
Jabali left Oberlin in 2000 with a degree in Biology and no set plans. But he knew he wanted to teach, and pretty soon he was throwing himself into the question of how to best educate boys - particularly minority and low-income boys. There’s lots to do: one study notes that more than 50% of African-American males drop out of high school and only 8% finish college.
Jabali was never one to do anything halfway; whatever he takes on he does with heart and mind and energy fully engaged. At the age of 27, he became the principal of Excellence Charter School in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Now in his fifth year, Jabali leads the charge for the 300 scholars there; every year the school adds another grade level, and thus more boys. The boys at this school all study in classrooms named for their teachers’ alma maters; scholars in the classroom led by Caleb Miller ’03 have “Oberlin” on their door.
While state test scores don’t tell the whole story at any school, they do tell a promising one at Excellence. In 2006-07, 92% of the third grade class scored advanced or proficient on the New York State reading exam and 100% scored advanced or proficient on the math tests. The percentages for boys and girls statewide were 25 and 15% points lower respectively. Jabali has said that he sees educating lower-class black boys as “the new civil rights movement.”
(See also “Teaching Boys and Girls Separately,” The New York Times Sunday magazine (March 2, 2008), where Excellence and Principal Sawicki were featured.)