Baruti Kafele speaks at Ottawa Hills High School Wednesday night
GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- There's a sense of urgency leading up to the start of classes in the Grand Rapids Public School District.
Administrators say they're losing male students, especially young black men.
That's why Wednesday night, the district brought in a nationally acclaimed author and principal to help fix what he calls an "attitude gap."
Baruti Kafele is a best-selling author, Milken Award educator, and expert in helping young men who live in urban environments overcome the barriers that are holding them back from success.
"Dropping out of school, constant suspenions and expulsions, murder, drugs, gangs," Kafele said to WZZM 13 in an interview.
To the young men that are leaving Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kafele and the district have a new plan for you.
"We are going to make a difference for all of our African- American, Latino, Caucasian men, because they deserve the very best," said a GRPS educator, pumping up the crowd Wednesday night. "All hands on deck."
"All Hands on Deck" is the theme GRPS is using to encourage administrators, teachers and parents to try and find a way to keep boys of all ages in school.
Ottawa Hills High School, where the rally and speech by Kafele took place, saw its graduation rate slip from 65 percent in 2011, to 55 percent in 2012. That's not all due to boys leaving, but Teresa Weatherall-Neal says it's time for a concrete solution to the problem.
"We don't quite understand what it takes to educate boys, and how do we turn them off at a very early age," she said.
Kafele says schools are starting to lose boys when they're in kindergarten.
"Because there's just not enough emphasis on making those connections with them, particularly coming from the home," he said.
This is Kafele's advice: "Stop focusing solely on the achievement gap, and begin to look at what I call the attitude gap."
He calls this the difference between those students who have the will to succeed and those who don't.
"Help him to develop a will, he's already bright," he said.
He applauds the district for taking the next step towards what he calls "manhood development:" school uniforms. Ottawa Hills High parent DaTasha Merritt is all for them.
"These kids live in this hip-hop culture and they try to look the part, and then you start from looking the part to being the part, and it perpetuates the violence," she said.
"We can now look at our books and look at our education and our futures," said Kafele, when students wear uniforms.
First, he says, it takes parents and teachers who understand they have to lead.
Weatherall-Neal says parents are crucial to keeping boys in school. She says schools need children in class everyday and on time.