Growing up, Ben Williams wasn’t sure exactly what the future held for him. He just knew he wanted to get himself and his little brother out of an unstable situation. He recognized teachers, administrators, and coaches—all part of the education landscape—as the one constant in his life and began to connect the dots. He would eventually earn three degrees, including a Ph.D., from the University of Virginia.
Now, Williams is poised to become the principal of Washington, D.C.’s first all-male public high school. The school’s planning principal—he is designing the school’s culture, academic plan, “and every other part of what the school will look like” from the ground up. Williams says, “The school will target young men and help prepare them to be men.”
Previously the associate principal of School Without Walls, a District of Columbia Public Schools pre-K–8 school, Williams has ambitious goals for the new single-sex high school, now called Empowering Males High School. The community will decide on a permanent name for the school later.
“My goal for the first year is to promote every student to the ninth grade,” the 36-year-old Williams says. “An important secondary goal is for all the young men to buy into the program, take ownership of their own education, and to feel like a major part of what we’re building here.”
He wants the students to take risks, enjoy their educational experience—and, of course, get accepted to college before graduating after four years.
“I’m setting a high bar for the young men and for the staff. And for myself,” Williams says.
Because of its higher teacher compensation, incentives, and career ladders, the District doesn’t have the teacher shortages that are bedeviling some communities. DCPS operates with a contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union.
The Deadline Is Today
The deadline to apply to Williams’s high school is Monday, Feb. 1. Williams has spent the last several weeks introducing himself and the program at District middle schools that have an 8th grade. The new school will not have feeder schools—students and their families will need to apply and be chosen by lottery. There are 150 available seats.
Williams says a plan of action will be created for each young man—a plan that will improve their weaknesses and develop their strengths. He expects to work with gifted students as well.
Some exciting features of the school include a restorative justice discipline model, so “young men understand that they can redirect and take responsibility for their behavior. We want to build a culture of having young men talk to each other and to us.”
Social-emotional learning will also figure prominently in the school’s design. “All our instructional practices will target young men and address issues in our culture and beyond that they are dealing with. That aspect will be built into our everyday practice.”
Williams, who grew up in foster care until he was 11, experienced a lot of loss and instability as a child. A bright youngster, he was unwilling to work hard because, “I didn’t want people to expect anything from me.” It was a DCPS teacher who challenged him by saying, “Your talent is nothing without a work ethic.”
She held him to high expectations. Now it looks like it’s his turn to do the favor for someone else.
If you live in the District and are interested in applying to the new high school, go here.