Darryl Miles surveys the room of young men and their families inside the Jefferson High cafeteria and grins. Soon, these faces will be familiar as the year begins.
The affable 45-year-old, ex-Enron executive is jumping into one of Portland's most novel educational experiments – the same-sex academies at Jefferson.
"My hope for this school is that we can affect positive change and show these young boys what it means to become productive men," Miles says.
Miles is ready for the challenge.
The New Jersey native went to an all-boys academy and says that experience helped him focus on his grades and make the right choices in life.
When he realized, at the age of 40, that the company he worked for was in the middle of a scandal, Miles made a mid-life career leap.
Five years later, the recent Portland State University graduate is three months away from his first teaching gig and looking forward to the challenges of teaching at a brand-new academy.
"I've always had a desire to work with kids," Miles says. "And I've always been interested in education."
And, as a successful Black man, Miles will bring a much-needed perspective to the new academy, which opens this fall.
"We are in dire need of more men of color to be out there, trying to be guides for our young men," Miles says. "We need to show our young men that they can be productive, that they have an opportunity here."
During last week's meet-and-greet dinner for the newly named John H. Johnson Leadership Academy for Young Men, parents and their sons talked about their hopes for this experimental school, which will open as a sixth through ninth grade facility in September, adding grades each year until it becomes a sixth through 12th grade academy.
The male academy hasn't drawn as much community support as Jefferson's all-girls school, which also opens this fall.
The Harriet Tubman Leadership Academy for Young Women, which will be housed in the former Tubman Middle School, has more than 150 students enrolled.
The young men's academy has 34 definite students and, according to Jefferson's interim campus principal, Cynthia Harris, about 20 others "on the fence."
The parents of those "definite" students agree that the academy offers a unique opportunity for their sons.
"I think he'll have opportunities here that he wouldn't have in other schools," says Shayla Harden, mother of 13-year-old Isaac Harden, who will be in the academy's ninth-grade class next year. "I like that PCC (Portland Community College) is right across the street and I think he'll develop leadership skills here."
If he sticks with the academy, the soon-to-be ninth-grader will be in the school's first graduating class -- the class of 2012.
Isaac is still coming to grips with the all-boy part of the school, but says he's hopeful.
"All classes with boys? It wouldn't have been my first choice ... My mom wanted me to go here, but it's OK. I think it will help me concentrate," he says.
Khalid Mohammad-Mosley, 11, will be a sixth-grader at the academy next fall.
"I think it will be fun," Mohammad-Mosley says. "I hope I get to take dance classes ... hip hop and maybe tap."
Shala Mosley, Khalid's mother, says she likes the school's focus on young men.
"There are a lot of absent fathers in this community and there's not a lot of emphasis on our young men, so I'm hoping this will help change that," Shala says.
Deborah Wilson graduated from Jefferson High in 1980 and plans to send her 13-year-old son, Morris Price Jr., to the young men's academy next fall.
A life-long Northeast Portland resident, Wilson hopes the same-sex schools will bring positive press to Jefferson and help get the local business community more involved with the school.
At Morris' former school, the Metropolitan Learning Center in Northwest Portland, Wilson was impressed with the amount of support nearby businesses gave to the kindergarten through 12th grade school.
"I hope the same thing will happen here," she says. "I just want the community to stay positive about Jefferson."
Like Harden, who plans to send her other son, 9-year-old Tariq, to the same-sex academy when he's in sixth grade, Wilson is bringing both of her children to the new schools. Her daughter, Lotnita Price, will begin her seventh grade year at the young women's academy.
"I think they'll get a better education here," Wilson says.
Parents like these spark the hope in teachers like Miles and in administrators like Harris and the young men's academy principal, Willie Holmes.
"I think (the new schools) give parents a wonderful choice," Harris says. "I didn't have the chance to attend an all-girls school when I was growing up, but I think I would have enjoyed that."
For more information about either same-sex academy, visit Portland Public Schools Web site at www.pps.k12.or.us/.