BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Mayor Bill de Blasio urged graduates of Boys and Girls High School on Thursday to continue to defy expectations and prove critics wrong, citing the long-struggling school as a successful example of the city’s Renewal Schools program.
De Blasio joined principal Michael Wiltshire in applauding the 93 students in Bedford-Stuyvesant, saying that twice the number of young men and women were dressed in red, white, and black caps and gowns than previously expected last fall.
Just seven months earlier, the mayor identified Boys and Girls High School at the top of a list of 94 failing schools targeted for additional funding and resources.
“Your graduation marks a rebirth for Boys and Girls High School,” de Blasio said. “It’s no ordinary graduation.”
“A lot of folks had counted this school out…and schools can struggle too, just like people can, just like families can, but we don’t count families out when they have struggles, do we?”
The school fell under the city’s spotlight after it received an F on its last three progress reports from the Department of Education and enrollment decreased in all grades since 2009.
Students met the challenges, the mayor said, by working together with classmates and faculty to change direction.
“You lived up to that expectation and you didn’t just do it individually, you helped each other…you made sure everyone had a chance,” de Blasio said.
“We call them Renewal Schools, because isn’t that what we aspire to in life: renewal? A chance to make right even when things have gone wrong.”
The mayor added Thursday that the administration is “not just giving up on any schools” or any child.
Still, at a previous speech at Boys and Girls in March, he made clear that if any of the targeted schools don’t turn around, the city will not hesitate to close them.
Under the city initiative, students received extra instructional time at Brooklyn’s oldest high school, and the appointment of seasoned principal Wiltshire brought advanced placement courses and class size reduction, according to officials.
The mayor also cited the increased involvement of parents and teachers as a pillar of success.
The class of 2015’s valedictorian, Salomon Djakpa, came to Boys and Girls four years ago from Senegal and improved his English through an ESL program at the school with the help of his teachers.
He will attend Cornell University for biological sciences in the fall.
“You can feel it this year. What new leadership meant, what the investments in this school meant, you could feel something different was happening,” de Blasio said.
The mayor's speech was similar to his keynote for the graduating class of Brooklyn Technical High School, which he deemed “one of the greatest high schools in the United States of America.”
De Blasio touched on themes of social justice, referencing the recent shooting deaths of nine African-Americans at a Charleston, S.C., church, and addressing the challenges that graduates may face in today’s society.
“Thank God these Confederate flags are coming down one by one, but many things have to change,” he said. “And it takes something in life to see — a moment of tragedy or a moment of unfairness, a moment of injustice — and not be pulled down by it, but somehow overcome it and step up. And that’s what we call for you to do.”