Three years ago, a high school in Bedford-Stuyvesant was plagued by low graduation rates, soaring violence and an "F" on its Department of Education Progress Report. Today, the school boasts an "A."
Formerly known as ACORN High School for Social Justice, the school of 420 students is now Brooklyn University High School for Law, BKULAW. Since its inception in 1999, the school has moved three times and suffered chronic turnover of its administration and staff.
In December 2008, Joseph Parker, principal at the time, resigned after persistent protests from students and teachers who believed he mismanaged the school.
After Parker's resignation, Karen Watts, the Department of Education's first "Executive Principal" took over. Watts was the first to lead the turnaround of the troubled school. She brought the school's progress report from an "F" in 2007 to a "B" by 2008 to finally an "A" this year.
Today, BKULAW reports a much higher passing rate of the students, both in their classes and on their regent examinations. Additionally, the graduation rate has increased from 30 percent to 74 percent in the last three years.
The high school has a new college preparatory program that aims to produce social and academic critical thinkers. Students can choose from legal studies, science and technology, and AVID-based curriculum. BKULAW offers Advanced Placement courses, and students have the opportunity to work towards an associates degree while they're still in high school.
With a new principal, Michael Prayer, BKULAW is settled into a permanent home in the old RKO Bushwick Theater, an exquisite golden iron shaped building. The school is thriving and their students are exited about education again.
"There used to be riots and people cutting class," said Melissa Leclerc, 16, a junior. "Nobody cuts anymore. We want to learn."
Leclerc, who works directly with the principal, said the way the administration views students is a direct reflection of how they view themselves. "We refer to [principal Prayer] as President Prayer, our teachers as professors, and they refer to us as scholars," she said.
The school says it aims to help students discover their talents and find their interests. And that's just what happened for one senior:
"I was never very enthusiastic about school," said, Chad Thomas, 17. "I just came to school to come to school, but now I'm involved: I'm the Vice President. I understand the importance of preparing for my future and helping [fellow] students."
Thomas who is now on the honor roll plans to go to law school, and said he feels adequately prepared for college after taking a number of law and government classes at BKULAW.
Students are convinced the checkered past of their school is behind them.
"Before, there were fights everyday literally. It really went from bad to good. Fights are a rare occurrence nowadays" said, DeAndre Harris, 17. Many of the students have already applied to colleges. "Writing our college essay [was] mandatory, it was apart of our final and we got graded for it."
Leclerc, who is only one class away from the advanced regents diploma summarized it best: "We strive for the best, not less. They inspire and motivate and we succeed. The school is changing all of us," she said. "We are the next generations of agents for change."