On Monday, See Forever (which currently runs the Maya Angelou School) signed an agreement with the District government to run the school at Oak Hill, the detention facility for kids in the District. We will open this summer. Though our letter agreement still requires full approval by DC Council, our plans for the school at Oak Hill are in place, and we have begun work on it.

I am excited about this because, during the entire time I was a public defender, Oak Hill was widely acknowledged to be a failure.

When we started See Forever and Maya Angelou we did it because we felt that many who worked in the juvenile justice community did not have high enough expectations for kids in that system. At the same time, we saw that many educators–including many in the educational reform community–did not want to work with kids who can often be especially challenging. So we wanted to bridge those 2 systems–to take the best of the education world and make it available to kids that most people ignore.

As Nelson Smith of the National Alliance for Public Charters points out, the District’s interest in partnering with us is a good example of a charter school working as it should–by incubating good ideas and bringing them into the system to serve additional kids.

I am finally optimistic about how this city plans to treat its most vulnerable children. This city now has visionary leadership, people like Vinnie Schiraldi, the head of the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, who believe that every child can have a future, no matter his past.

We now have Mayor Adrian Fenty, who has argued for years that the best way to reduce youth crime is to invest in the children most likely to engage in such behavior.

We are looking for people who share our passion and our commitment. If you know of anybody who fits the bill, please have them check out our website, which has job descriptions and information on how to apply.

We are also soliciting volunteers–people who might to coach, mentor, or tutor. Volunteering is a great way to support young men who have made mistakes and done wrong, but who want a chance to show that they are more than their worst act.

To get a sense of where we stand, and to see if our approach resonates with your beliefs, here’s what we said in the beginning of our proposal to run the school:

Students attending schools in secure juvenile justice facilities historically have been terribly served. The list of failures is now well-documented: low academic expectations, curricula that are neither relevant nor rigorous, insufficient focus on literacy, inattention to social-emotional wellness, poor special education services, little or no emphasis on career preparation, and a deficit approach that views young people and their families and communities solely as problems to be fixed. All too often these schools lack necessary programs. When the programs do exist, they are typically of low quality, and staffed by underpaid, overworked, and inadequately trained staff.

What makes the state of affairs especially tragic is that these schools are serving young people who need the best we have to offer. They need the best teachers, best counselors, best curricula, best job training, and best literacy programs. But instead we give them the worst.

The young men at Oak Hill are, in many ways, typical of a committed population in an urban setting. They are overwhelmingly African-American, from low-income families. They face significant academic and socio-emotional wellness challenges. Many have disabilities that have been diagnosed but never properly addressed, while others have never even received the diagnosis that is a pre-condition to receiving the services they need.

Yet each of these young men also has tremendous assets. Even as they sit incarcerated, miles from their homes, they have hopes, dreams, and potential. They crave relationships with supportive, caring adults who believe in them and demand the best. And they each have someone in their lives who wants them back home, and who prays that when they return from Oak Hill, they will begin a journey toward responsible adulthood. It is our job to help make this happen.

At See Forever, we have the knowledge, capacity, and commitment to meet this challenge. We are able to provide an educational setting that will be truly transformative in the lives of these young men, and that will allow the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services to serve as a national model for the education of committed youth.