CharterFolk Contributor Dr. Kathryn Procope – Charter Schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities – A Marriage Made in Heaven

Good morning, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Dr. Kathryn Procope, the Executive Director of Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science.

Dr. Kathryn Procope

I provide Kathryn’s bio below.

Kathryn Procope, a native of Brooklyn New York and a product of New York City Public Schools, obtained a bachelor of science in Mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She recently obtained a doctoral degree in education at the American University. After a 25+ year career in information technology that included leading the design of systems for the Department of Defense, in 2007, she earned a master’s degree in mathematics education from George Washington University where she graduated magna cum laude. Dr. Procope began her teaching career as a middle school mathematics teacher in Washington DC public schools. Her career progression included teaching high school mathematics, mathematics coach, assistant principal and high school principal in DC schools and she received the Agnes Meyer Award for teaching in 2009. In 2015, Dr. Procope became the Head of School at the Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science. During her tenure, Dr. Procope spearheaded the school’s 15-year charter renewal, and the school’s accreditation by the Middle States Association and Commission of Elementary and Secondary Schools. Dr. Procope was named Principal of the Year for the District of Columbia by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in 2019 and Digital Principal of the Year in 2020. Dr. Procope serves on several boards within her community. 

Charter Schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities – A Marriage Made in Heaven

Education has always been at the center of Black people’s struggle for freedom in a society that continues to marginalize and disenfranchise them. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were the answer to Jim Crow oppression that made achieving even the most minimal education challenging and dangerous. HBCUs have always represented opportunity, options, and hope to Black people. The charter school movement came into being because parents wanted options for their children, educators wanted the freedom to use their creativity to provide learning opportunities to children, and state governments recognized that a change was needed. It seems logical that charter schools and HBCUs should be working together.

In 2005, the visionaries at Howard University wanted to create a pipeline for STEM careers for Black students, and they recognized that middle school was that critical time when young people are finding out who they are and making decisions for their life. The Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science began with a group of focused and dedicated educators, many of whom had business, engineering, and science backgrounds. In 2005, our school was one of the first charter schools to provide take-home technology, including an Apple MacBook computer, a printer, and access to wireless internet. Howard University was absolutely a leader in the field. When we began, our student population consisted primarily of children and family members of Howard University faculty and their friends. The students were intrinsically motivated and did well academically primarily due to the support they had at home.

As the school evolved with the charter school movement in Washington, DC, our student population began to reflect the city’s demographic. Our students are 96% African American, 3% Hispanic, and 1% Mixed race; 77% are considered at-risk, and 49% of our students live in wards 7 and 8. Our school is in Ward 1. At least half of our students come to us each year reading and doing mathematics below grade level. But one thing remains constant, our parents want their children to be successful, they want school choice for their children, and they want them to be safe. Our school has addressed these desires and more.

Many of our parents have not attended or even thought of attending college. But when their middle school children step on Howard University’s campus, they are stepping into their future, and we emphasize that college is within their grasp, that it is a possibility for them. Success looks different for each child in our school. If their reading level is at kindergarten in the 6th grade, success is reading at a 3rd-grade level by the 7th grade, and we celebrate that success. We teach goal setting, and each child has a mentor who helps them set goals and execute the steps to achieve their goals.

We emphasize to our students that they have choices in life. There are actions and consequences as opposed to discipline and punishment. We teach our young people to respect each other and themselves using restorative justice. We remind them of who they are, the descendants of kings, queens, scientists, and inventors, and that their ancestors weaved the fabric of this country, and they are responsible for carrying on this powerful legacy. We attempt to remove every obstacle to their success by counseling students and families, and addressing homelessness, food, and clothing insecurities. We are indeed a family.

Our students are indeed a part of the Howard University (HU) community. Visits to the HU School of Medicine allow our children to see cadavers and learn about the human body firsthand. Visits to the HU School of Chemistry allowed them to understand the desalination process using soda for their experiment. Professors from the HU College of Liberal Arts visit our classes and teach Spanish and Latin. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at Howard sponsored a drill team for some of our more challenging boys, sparking an interest in college for many of them. The Divine 9 provides mentors to our students each year. Dr. Gregg Carr has instructed our students on the history of African American music and has welcomed our students into his classroom to learn with HU students. The HU Cheerleading coach coached our cheer team. The School of Dentistry provides preventative dental care to our students. The HU School of Education’s student teachers complete their practicum with our children in our classrooms.

A marriage is a formally recognized union of two partners in a personal relationship. When Howard University chartered our school, we became partners in an association dedicated to providing an opportunity to those students who are furthest from it, and we have succeeded. If you ask our middle school students where they go to school, they will say, “I go to Howard.” That is the future talking.