Noted Educator Inspires Optimism

Article 11_Hrabowski_CSA

Brooklyn Tech Principal Randy Asher (right) speaks with Dr. Hrabowski (left) before the start of the lecture.

By Maria Smith

Nearly 300 members attending the Council of School Administrators (CSA), Local 1’s Executive Leadership Institute (ELI) fall conference on Sept. 25 rose to honor Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), with a standing ovation as he finished his presentation, “Academic Leadership: Creating a Climate of Success for All Students.”

During his lecture, Dr. Hrabowski spoke about motivating students, especially in the areas of math and science.

Quoting from Maya Angelou’s poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” Dr. Hrabowski set a tone of optimism and determination. “It’s the power of stories,” he said. “We all have them. It’s important to know one another’s, to understand where and what an individual is coming from.”

Dr. Hrabowski told his own story of growing up in the segregated South. He described how his mother discovered the joy of reading when the woman for whom she worked lent her books. Reading opened up new worlds and helped her to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. “My mother told me: ‘You are special but you can be better.’ We need to believe this and tell our young educators and children,” he said.

As an academic with advanced degrees in mathematics, Dr. Hrabowski gave his thoughts about why Americans have a problem with math and the sciences.

“We believe that science and math are not for everyone. We compare ourselves to China with a population of 1.3 billion. Our population of 310 million is not even close. Yet, we have to look at the analytics. What are the trends? Why are we behind? Why are we failing in this area?” he asked.

Dr. Hrabowski also addressed best practices for educational leaders to support the success of all students.

“As leaders we must create a culture that allows trust and is not politically correct. We have got to talk to families about what is going on at home. Schools are part of a community and we have gotten away from this,” he said.

He recalled at UMBC that at one time no African American student had ever received more than a “C” grade in the sciences, and that was acceptable to staff, faculty and students alike. He challenged this status quo and met with resistance. However, he persisted, emphasizing there was something wrong with accepting this level of failure.

Dr. Hrabowski implemented a plan involving students, parents, professors and faculty that addressed the academic and social deficiencies of the African American student body. It took three years, but when the first student of color received an A in genetics, her classmates burst into applause.

“We cannot plan to fail,” he said. “We must plan to succeed. Success brings more success. Let your story inspire someone else. Lead with optimism.”