By Dennis McCarthy, Columnist, Los Angeles Daily News | http://bit.ly/xWJUwy
P.E. teacher Fluke Fluker, is seen with students at Cleveland High School in Reseda on Jan. 13, 2012. (John McCoy/Daily News Staff Photographer)
01/14/2012 07:58:34 PM PST :: Fluke Fluker walks down the halls of Cleveland High School Friday like he owns the place.
"Hey, Mr. Fluker, nice tie."
"Hey, Mr. Fluker, how's it going?"
"It's all good," the 6-foot-7-inch, 260-pound teacher says, smiling and nodding good morning to another group of students falling in behind him to walk down the hallway in his shadow.
It is all good for this 52-year-old mammoth of a man whose life reads like a Hollywood screenplay written for Denzel Washington.
Fluker grew up in the tough projects in Brooklyn, N.Y., and was sent off to school by a mother who actually did name him Fluke at birth. It's not a nickname.
"My mom finally changed it to Wayne because all the in-laws said I'd be
Fluke Fluker is a P.E. teacher at Cleveland High School in Reseda who has a positive impact on almost every kid he sees. (John McCoy/Daily News Staff Photographer)
getting beat up a lot at school with a name like Fluke.
"They didn't know I'd grow to be 6-7, 260 pounds, and have no problem with that. So I changed it back."
Fluke and school never got along. He was a street kid, and trouble was never far away. By the time he was 17, the Juvenile Court judges in Brooklyn were giving him the choice of jail or the Marines when he turned 18.
Fluke chose the Marines and never looked back. His size and athletic ability shot him up the ranks to sergeant within a year and a half of joining.
"But I had to face the fact that my academic skills were weak, extremely weak. Here I was a USMC sergeant, having to sit there with what were basically `Cat in the Hat' books.
"It was both humiliating and humbling," Fluker said.
After serving four years in the Marines, Fluker enrolled in junior college to work on his grades, then transferred to Cal State Northridge where he played basketball and hit the books hard.
By then, he knew what he wanted to be and why. Everywhere Fluker looked, he saw young black kids lost like he was at that age.
"To this day, when I see kids being lured by the call of the streets and making negative choices, I see part of me," Fluker says. "That's why I became a teacher."
His first teaching jobs were in upper income school districts. When he looked around his classes he didn't see but one or two kids with the same skin color as his.
"I knew I needed to work more with kids like me so I transferred to the Los Angeles Unified School District. My friends thought I was crazy for leaving a plush job, but I needed the challenge. It was the Marine in me."
When he arrived at Cleveland High, black kids were scoring lower on test scores than the students who didn't speak English, Fluker says.
"The African-American teachers would look at those scores and feel embarrassed, angry, humiliated and confused. I knew from my conversations with these kids that these scores were not a true representation of their intelligence. So why?"
With two other black teachers at the school - Andre Chevalier and Bill Paden - and with the blessing of the school's principal, Al Weiner, the teachers started holding assemblies with black students only.
"The first assembly consisted of every black person in the school," Fluke says. "Teachers, staff, lunch ladies, bus drivers, custodians and 300-plus students.
"The adults formed a circle around the students. We talked about our anger and frustration. We talked about our fears and concerns. We talked about our love for them."
From those assemblies the immensely successful and popular Village Nation program was formed at Cleveland High seven years ago. It has now spread to more than a dozen other high schools in the district.
"It's not all warm and fuzzy and group hugs," Fluker says. "Raising children properly means telling them the truth, and the truth isn't always easy to hear.
"It means being really straight with a kid about how he's contributing to his own problems. But it's done in an atmosphere of love."
The first year after Village Nation was formed, standard achievement test scores of African-American kids at Cleveland rose 53 points. Since then they've climbed to more than 140 points higher.
The next thing Fluker knew he was sitting on a couch with Oprah Winfrey on her TV show listening to her tell the nation how the test score results blew her away.
It was no fluke, Fluke Fluker told her.
It was just a lot of hard work, honesty and love.