Whatever It Takes, an Independent Lens documentary scheduled for March 30 release on PBS, looks at the first year of the Bronx Center for Science & Mathematics, a “no excuses” magnet school for its black and Hispanic students.
Midway through the school year, however, Principal (Edward) Tom’s ideals run up against reality: over half his students are failing, detention hall is overflowing, and gang members start recruiting at school. Even some teachers harbor some doubt, exhausted from 16-hour work days and disillusioned with Principal Tom’s inconsistent discipline policy.
Sharifea, a 14-year-old girl with a recovering crack-addict mother, wants to be a pediatrician, but she’s failing all her classes. The principal and teachers try to get Sharifea into a three-year summer college preparatory program at Dartmouth College.
The school’s graduation rate for its first class was 84 percent compared to 52 percent for other Bronx high schools. It sent 77 percent of graduates to colleges and universities. There are 20 applicants for every spot in the ninth-grade class.