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Amir Ealy,8, gives his mother, Veronica James, a big hug before going off to play with his friends before school starts at Sobrante Park Elementary School in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. Amir is being honored at an assembly for scoring a perfect score on the California Standardized Test last school year in math. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

OAKLAND -- Amir Ealy is bright and motivated. He tears around the yard with his friends before school, but when he walks into the classroom, he is ready to learn.

So his teachers were proud, but not surprised, to learn the 8-year-old earned a perfect score on the state math test last spring.

"It goes with him," said Michelle Ramos-Stokes, who was Amir's first- and second-grade teacher at Sobrante Park Elementary School in East Oakland. "He works really hard, and he causes everyone who's around him to work hard."

A recent school district analysis revealed that about 400 elementary schoolchildren in Oakland Unified tested perfectly in math or reading on the 2010 California Standards Test. Twenty-three of them were African-American boys.

If it weren't for a proud mother, that statistic might not have surfaced.

Chris Chatmon heads the school district's new, privately funded African-American Male Achievement initiative, and he has made extensive data requests relating to the outcomes of black male students. He is compiling rates of literacy, graduation, suspension and incarceration, among others.

But when Chatmon took a call from Ell Parker, who wondered why she couldn't find anyone to publicly acknowledge the perfect score of her son, Kevin Butler, no one knew how extraordinary the boy's achievement was. No one had asked.

Parker's request sparked a campaign to find and honor the district's highest-achievers, an effort that Chatmon hopes will evolve to include boys and girls of all races.


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Marco Franco, principal of Sobrante Park Elementary, said he was glad to hear the district's leaders were recognizing the excellence -- not just the challenges -- of Oakland's African-American students.

"We're always focusing on what's wrong and how to fix it," Franco said. "Obviously it's something we need to continue doing, but at the same time we need to push the top."

Franco held an assembly last week for Amir, a self-assured boy who said he is contemplating a career as a stuntman, a doctor, a baseball player or an Army officer.

"You all know Amir," Franco began. "He's popular. He loves sports. He does very well in sports. But today, we are honoring him because last year on the state test, the California Standards Test, he scored a perfect score on his math."

Wild applause.

Amir answered all 65 questions correctly, and Franco told the students in the gym that they could do it, too. "I want you to reach for that," he told them.

Amir's third-grade teacher, Luby Becerra, said the 8-year-old has raised the bar for other students, especially for those with a competitive streak. He is part of a student-led literature circle that meets once a week in class to discuss the themes and characters of stories they've read. Becerra assigns him book reports and other writing assignments, including a report on Germany that requires online research.

"It's challenging him to think -- to think, think, all the time," she said.

Amir's father, Vincent Ealy, also grew up in Sobrante Park and attended the same school. The Castlemont High School graduate sometimes walks his son to school before going to work at an oil change shop in Hayward. Amir's mother, Veronica James, regularly checks in with Amir's teachers on his progress.

"I hope for him to continue to get good grades and go to college and do whatever he wants to do," Ealy said. "Stunt man, police officer, Army, whatever he wants to do, I'm for it. But keeping his grades up is number one."

Chatmon says he plans to follow and support strong students like Amir as they make their way to middle school and high school. Oakland's African-American students tend to see their grades and test scores decline as they get older -- or they leave the school district, he said. He has interviewed some 500 black male students; many, he said, seem to have internalized the negative perceptions about their race and gender.

The perfect score campaign, he said, shows that "black boys are brilliant, that black boys can excel, and that there are real life examples here in Oakland."

Read Katy Murphy's Oakland schools blog at IBAbuzz.com/education. Follow her at Twitter.com/KatyMurphy.

perfect scores
African-American boys who earned perfect scores in reading or math on the 2010 California Standards Test (Oakland school district, grades two to five).

Malachi Ambrose, Cleveland Elementary (math)
Jordan Bailey, Greenleaf Elementary (math)
Jayden Burgess, Carl Munck Elementary (math)
Kevin Butler, Manzanita SEED Elementary (math)
Amir Ealy, Sobrante Park Elementary (math)
Rayne Edmonson, Glenview Elementary (math)
Joshua Ford-Walker, ACORN Woodland Elementary (math)
Emilio Garcia-James, Peralta Elementary (math)
Hezekiah Haylett, Marshall Elementary (reading)
Dahyan Johnson, Hoover Elementary (math)
Rahjae Johnson, EnCompass Academy (math)
Elijah Jones, Learning Without Limits Elementary (math)
Kai Landesvatter, Peralta Elementary (math)
Darrell Lopez, Emerson Elementary (math)
Yonatan Melesse, Piedmont Avenue Elementary (math)
Fra'ol Olyad, Chabot Elementary (math)
Reginald Quartey, PLACE at Prescott (math)
Demarcus Robinson, Carl Munck Elementary (math)
Hugh Savage, Think College Now (math)
Justin Taylor, Grass Valley Elementary (math)
Jared Thomas, Piedmont Avenue Elementary (math)
Tarynn Thompkins, Bella Vista Elementary (reading)
Jamal White, Lakeview Elementary (math)