Chicagoans of the Year 2010: Tim King, Urban Prep Academy

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Members of Tim King’s family have been going to college for three generations, so it wasn’t unusual for him to attend Georgetown University and earn bachelor’s and law degrees. But what King most wanted to do was show other young African American men the path to, and the rewards of, a college education.

He knew the odds. Before he launched Urban Prep Academy, an all-male charter public high school in Englewood, 60 percent of Chicago’s young black males were dropping out of school and fewer than 3 percent were completing college. Yet King believed that an intense academic regimen, paired with the cultivation of social skills and an injection of self-confidence, could point those same young men toward lifelong success. “We could change generations,” King says. “We could change not only these young men’s lives, but the lives of their descendants—the life of this country.”

King’s idea for an all-male high school was rejected twice by the Chicago Board of Education, even though he had spent five years as president of Hales Franciscan High School in the Grand Boulevard neighborhood. He persisted, and in 2005, with his third application, he got the go-ahead. At Urban Prep, King’s persistence remains a touchstone. “Mr. King never gave up on his idea, so we don’t give up on ours,” says Robert Lee Henderson III, a member of the inaugural freshman class. Ninety percent of those freshmen came from low-income families, about 85 percent from single-mother households, and nearly all of them read below their grade level.

Despite those troubling statistics, the school’s motto—We Believe—prevailed, and it wasn’t just because of the tough curriculum. Each student was addressed as Mister (followed by his surname), and every day started with a morning assembly that was part homeroom, part motivational rally. The young men wore blazers and ties, though in the early days, King recalls, some students would walk to school in street clothes and then surreptitiously change into the uniform once they arrived. Now that Urban Prep has a stellar reputation, he notes, “they wear their blazer and tie everywhere. They want you to notice they’re Urban Prep men.”

All of this is fundamental to counteract unjust generalizations about young black men. “Black boys in particular have real struggles with feeling respected by society,” says King, 43. “We give them respect, and when they start to feel that, they respect their classmates and the people around them.”

Last spring, Urban Prep, which now encompasses three campuses, graduated its first class—and each of its 107 members was admitted to a four-year college or university. (Robert Lee Henderson, who still regards the school as “my mother and my father,” is enrolled at Lake Forest College and has set his sights on becoming a doctor.) The graduation ceremony, held at the UIC Forum, confirmed that one school can overcome the effects of extreme poverty, scattered families, and other inequities. “People can now look at young men like these and know that it can be done,” King says. “So let’s get busy and do it.”

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3 years ago
Posted by mobrien101

What bothers me is that know one asks how many boys start their Freshman year at Urban Prep. How many boys are thrown out for various offenses. Urban Prep still has the luxury of "cherry picking" their students.

While I am not knocking Urban Preps efforts, they have a huge advantage that neighborhood schools do not. Yet everyone is quick to put down neighborhood schools without any real help.

Get ALL the facts about Urban Prep and you may be surprised.

3 years ago
Posted by educationcomes1st

Quit hating MOBRIEN101. The school accepts students on a lottery system so they do not have any advantage. Even if some kids did get expelled, transferred out, or dropped out, the entire class of kids got accepted to college. What public school has those stats? All schools have kids that are kicked out, transfer out, or drop out!!!! Given the fact that all of these kids came from the Englewood neighborhood, it is an amazing story. Check your facts before you pose ridiculous comments!

The numbers speak for themselves. Urban Prep accepts kids on a lottery system from one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago and ALL of its graduates went on to a 4 year college or University. Who cares how many were kicked out or dropped out. That is going to happen in any school.

3 years ago
Posted by ruthoj

My question is how many of them stayed? And how many of them could afford to go, even if they were accepted? I work for a program that gets 93% of kids in public housing in one part of Boston into college. MANY of them don't stay the whole four years, either because of academics or cost. This ends up not being all that helpful to those kids. Also, MOBRIEN101 is right in bringing up the advantages of charters have over public schools; better funding and more respect are certainly important. I'm also a Northwestern graduate, where King teaches a class on charter schools. I have respect for the man, I just think this article and the general attitude of charters as panacea is flawed.

3 years ago
Posted by Camilla317

Only in time will we know how many of Urban Prep's students stay in college and finish with a degree. However, and this is a VERY important "however", Urban Prep's stated mission is not only to make sure that their students get into college, they are also committed, as an organization, to ensuring that their students stay in college and finish.

Whether it's a financial challenge, a social challenge or an academic challege, Tim King is committed to doing all that he can to enable these kids to not just get accepted into college but to finish their undergraduate educations and earn a degree. Please check out the Urban Prep website - their stated mission (and Mr. King does his due dilligence to fulfill it) is to provide a college preparatory education that results in Urban Prep's graduates being successful in college. "Successful" means a degree - not just being accepted and later having to leave college without completing the degree program.

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