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Courtesy of Tim King

Urban Prep founder Tim King

At Urban Prep, where everyone goes to college, founder still faces critics

by Danielle Cadet
March 08, 2011


Courtesy of Tim King

The graduating class of 2011 with Tim King

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Urban Prep homepage
For the second consecutive year, Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men saw 100 percent of its graduating seniors accepted at four-year colleges and universities. Urban Prep serves urban African-American males with a mission of reversing “abysmal graduation and college completion rates.”

Tim King, founder of the school, is no stranger to the spotlight. His school is often in the news for its students’ stellar academic accomplishments. But with popularity comes misconceptions and criticism, a fact that King says is the least of his concerns. Instead, he says his emphasis is on serving his students, providing an educational model and changing the lives of Chicago’s young, black men.

King sat down recently with Medill Reports to talk about his school and some of the criticism it gets.

Question: Talk about the process of beginning Urban Prep. What made you want to create the school and why?

Answer: The first reason was that I feel very strongly that we live in an unjust society when certain families have the option to send their children to high-performing schools, whereas families without means don’t have that same opportunity. I wanted to provide those families with a high-quality option. Second reason is we are just in a real crisis for young black males and I wanted to create a school that was going to positively impact the educational, social and emotional landscape for black men.

Q: How do you feel about the ongoing charter school-neighborhood school debate?

A: I think the anger or frustration may be misdirected. Urban Prep didn’t have anything to do with shutting down any schools. I didn’t work for Chicago Public Schools. I didn’t take anything from CPS to start Urban Prep. People can philosophically be opposed to charter schools, but I don’t believe it makes sense for people to be opposed to the schools themselves, because we are public schools serving public school children.

Q: Do you feel the public has any misconceptions about you or your school? If so, what do you feel is the biggest misconception?

A: The biggest misconception is that we’re a selective enrollment school. Second is that we’re some type of private school. I think a lot of that is born from subtle racism that exists in our society. I think people see a group of black boys in a suit and tie and assume that those can’t be the kids from down the street, and that’s a shame.

Q: How do you intend on setting the record straight?

A: I don’t think that it makes sense for us to spend time, energy and resources to do that. I think our job really needs to be telling people who we are, when it comes to the students we’re serving and our constituents. Anyone who goes to our website or sends an email and asks a question can get an answer.

Q: What is your response to critics who feel your numbers have been skewed and the possibility of students being “pushed out” to ensure favorable statistics?

A: I have never represented to anyone that every student who starts at Urban Prep is going to finish at Urban Prep. I don’t think it makes sense, nor is it appropriate to criticize what is a stellar accomplishment for our students and staff. I will tell you that in that graduating class there have been nine students who were expelled. They were all expelled for very severe discipline reasons. We work diligently not to expel students. We actually do the opposite of what some people perceive

Q: A lot of people see you as a “media giant” so to speak. What’s your response to that?

A: I am troubled on a philosophical level by the fact that it’s such a big deal for black boys to get into college. It should not be a big deal. It should be the norm or at least expected, not exceptional. On a practical level I think the story is underreported. I bet you if there was a school where all of the kids murdered somebody, that would be a really big story for a really long time. I’m not saying the opposite of going to college is killing someone, but I am saying that we tend to promote more negative behavior than we do positive behavior. Just look at Charlie Sheen. Urban Prep, we don’t have 2 million people following us on Twitter. Nor do we have every school district in the country ringing off my phone. Granted, we get a lot of people who call us. But it’s not like I’m getting phone calls every five seconds from superintendents or teachers.

Q: What do you want people to know about Tim King?

A: I think there are many people who have this notion that I am somehow new to this “game.” One thing that I would like people to understand is that I have spent my entire professional career in education. A year has never gone by where I was not spending time in a classroom. I’ve been working with high-need communities since I graduated from college.

Q: What do you see in Urban Prep’s future?

For sure we’re going to open additional schools depending on what the funding public education landscape looks like in Chicago. But we’re definitely looking to expand around the country.