Principal of Brilliant Black Catholic School in St. Louis reveals secret to historic success
Cardinal Ritter College Prep was established in 1979 by leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, MO to provide black students with the tools they need to succeed. And since the school opened its doors, it has been able to tell an incredible success story that includes 100% college graduation and acceptance rates, and an impressive list of alumni, including Congressman Cori Bush (D-MO) and Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams.
Studies have shown that when black students have at least one black teacher in third grade, they are 13 percent more likely to go to college. But in many schools across the country, Black students never have a teacher who looks like them. According to 2018 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 80% of public school teachers in this country identified as white, non-Hispanic. Only 7% identified as black, and only 2 percent as black men.
The root spoke with Cardinal Ritter’s president, Tamiko Armstead, on the secret to her school’s success.
Since taking office as president, Armstead, a proud Cardinal Ritter alumnus, has nearly doubled the number of black male faculty and staff from 20 percent to 40 percent. And she says the decision to recruit more black men for the school was both intentional and necessary for her student body, which is nearly 95% African American. “[I had] my first black teacher was when i was a student here. It’s a tradition,” she said. “We always had a strong black male presence because that was part of the mission when the doors opened. [The founders] knew that it was essential to the success of the school.
Armstead attributes the school’s perfect graduation and acceptance rates to its mission, which includes faith, academic excellence, and leadership. “Our goal is to help our students become the best version of themselves. They know early on that there will be a college application process. They know that the grades they get in first year will show up on their transcripts. So we set our high standards and push them to every student,” she said.
She adds that a large part of the students success comes from the trust that can be built when they are taught by people who are like them. “When you set the standards for students in terms of high expectations and put them in a caring, family-loving environment, that’s really the secret recipe,” she said. “We have 54 different ZIP codes represented and dozens of public schools pouring into this school. Cardinal Ritter is a representation of the communities we serve.
Although many students do not identify as Catholic, Armstead says the religious component of Cardinal Ritter’s mission is never an issue. “We are a faith-based school and most of our students come from prayerful families. They may not all be Catholic, but they know the power of prayer and have a relationship with God.
Since taking on her leadership role at Cardinal Ritter, Armstead says she has felt compelled to uphold the school’s incredible reputation. Not only because she is president, but because three of her five sons have also attended school. “Two of our sons are alumni and our third son is currently a student. So we believe in this mission for our family as well,” she said.
Armstead says she thinks with the right focus, other schools can replicate Cardinal Ritter’s success. “I really think that if all schools understand the population they serve and ask what these children need, they can accomplish the same things that we have been able to accomplish,” she said.