The Bogie High boogie

‘I commend Principal Gil and her team, as well as the scholars, parents, and volunteers working to ensure Boca Ciega continues to navigate sailable waters in their quest for excellence,’ said Dr. Goliath Davis about Boca Ciega High School’s leader. 

GOLIATH J. DAVIS, III, Ph.D. | Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — My day started as usual. I was up at 4 a.m., watched a news channel for an hour, showered and prepared to travel to Boca Ciega High School. I arrived at the school at 6:45 a.m., checked in at the desk and greeted the principal’s assistant, who assigned a scholar (Journey) to escort me to the media center for my meeting with AVID representatives and other school officials.

Boca Ciega, a National AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Demonstration Site, was being reviewed for re-accreditation, and Principal Jennifer Gil invited me to review the process. I was delighted to do so, given an earlier article I wrote about Bogie regarding what some believed to be a need to adjust the course of the Pirate Ship.

Bogie has, in recent times, been referred to as Boogie High, where the emphasis seemed to be more on everything but education. As one of three predominantly Black high schools in the south end of the Pinellas County School District, Boca Ciega High School has faced some challenges – real and perceived. One thing became readily apparent when I arrived, began the tour, observed the teaching and learning, and heard unsolicited testimonials by Black and white scholars: Bogie is a place of fun, excitement, and, more importantly, learning. Make no mistake, there is some boogie at Bogie, and the boogie is collaborative education.

Journey, the first member of my group’s three-member tour team, was quite impressive, as were Leilah and Robert. Given I arrived early, Journey and I had an opportunity to converse on an array of matters. I told her how impressed I was with her determined commitment to accomplish her goal of becoming a pediatrician at her school of choice, the University of Florida.

Journey is a ninth-grade African-American female who, unlike me as a ninth grader, has a clearly articulated plan and chose Bogie’s Medical Magnet to help make it become a reality. I had an opportunity to introduce her to the granddaughter of Dr. Fred W. Alsup, one of St. Petersburg’s noted civil rights activists, physicians, and surgeons. I also referred her to Dr. Marilyn Fudge, another Black female medical pioneer.

Like Journey, Leilah, a Bogie Fundamental Program member, is also a determined Black female. She has a developed career plan and exceptional organizational skills. She and Robert, a white male football player, ensured the group stayed on time and task. I usually found myself questioning the scholars and instructional leaders longer than time permitted, and Leilah, whom I mentally named “no-nonsense,” always moved me along.

Robert, a six-foot-five-inch left offensive tackle, is an extremely bright, courteous, and mannerable young man. As a senior, he has narrowed his options and has a scholarship to attend college. Aside from his impressive size, his personal qualities make him stand out as an asset to the school and his class.

AVID Coordinator Andrea Goode

All teachers at Bogie and in all its programs — medical, fundamental, and traditional — employ AVID emerging strategies. The school operates on a 90-minute block class period, allowing ample time for teaching and learning. When visiting classrooms, I met educator and AVID Coordinator Andrea Goode, who reminded me of our earlier encounter when I served as deputy mayor. She credited me with inspiring her to work in challenging educational environments.

The AVID program utilizes a collaborative teaching pedagogy, which I observed to be very effective. The instructional leaders are just that — leaders. They do not talk to or at the scholars. Instead, they question, prod, and encourage. Mutual respect was readily apparent, and Socratic components were added to their method.

Additionally, they employ collaborative study groups where scholars experiencing difficulty with a lesson can bring problems before the group, and their peers assume the role of teacher, utilizing Socratic instructional techniques. It is not enough to know and understand the material. You are also required to teach it and assist your classmates when necessary.

Dr. Alicia Issac

We traveled from room to room and observed diverse scholars working in each class to resolve complex problems in physics, statistics, calculus, biology, and blood compatibilities. Social science issues were also observed. Dr. Alicia Issac is revered by scholars and teachers alike for her ability to engage students on social issues and move them to the point of resolution and mutual understanding. Again, she questions, prods, and encourages, allowing the scholar the opportunity to engage freely. It was beautiful to watch.

There were two panels, one composed of scholars and one composed of teachers. The teacher panel was informative and should be offered at the elementary and middle school levels as well as to other high schools. I was impressed by their willingness to fully engage scholars with informative, challenging lessons and a collaborative approach. They understood that engagement and collaboration are far more effective than authoritative control.

The testimonials we heard from scholars were forthright and insightful. They all credited AVID and their instructors’ mastery of AVID principles with their success, noting their previous inability to take effective notes, organize them and refer to the notes at appropriate intervals significantly hampered their comprehension, retention, and ability to perform effectively on examinations. Testimonials from the mouths of babes coupled with my observations convinced me of the program’s effectiveness and that it should be reaccredited.

The Boca Ciega Pirate Ship has entered sailable waters. This is mainly due to Captain Gil, her teachers, staff, scholars, parents, Men of Yesterday, Today, and the Future and other volunteers. Make no mistake, from time to time, Bogie will drift into boogie waters, but I am confident, as evidenced by my visit and the fact that many of the relevant numerical indices are moving in the right direction, that Captain Gil has found her sea legs and will effectively pilot the ship. Bogie has an excellent college and career counseling program, an award-winning fine arts program and has pinned more AVID scholars than any other school in the district.

Gil’s presentation for recertification was excellent. Her data points were appropriate, and her poise and confidence were exceptional. She recognized the outstanding work of her team and scholars and left no doubt she was in charge. She is an active listener and willing to adjust the course when necessary. I am confident Boca Ciega High School will be reaccredited as an AVID demonstration site.

I commend Gil and her team, as well as the scholars, parents, and volunteers working to ensure Boca Ciega continues to navigate sailable waters in their quest for excellence.

Dr. Goliath Davis is a former St. Petersburg police chief and deputy mayor who advocates for education in Pinellas County, focusing on Black student achievement.

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