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Paige Academy founders retiring after 48 years

Tanisha Bhat
Paige Academy founders retiring after 48 years
Angela and Joe Cook PHOTO: LOU JONES

Angela and Joe Cook have spent the last 48 years educating children up to sixth grade at Paige Academy, a Roxbury private school based on African educational values.

Angela handles the day-to-day operations and fundraising; Joe takes care of the facilities, manages finances, and teaches computers, robotics and math.

“We’ve been doing it for years, so we’ve sort of got a routine,” Joe said.

The two are now retiring from their positions at the academy to focus on themselves and take up passion projects like writing books. They will continue to remain on the board and offer guidance to their successor, they said.

“It’s important for Black institutions to transition in a way that’s going to allow the institution to continue to exist,” Joe Cook said. “We are transitioning with a succession plan that is going to help make this a possibility.”

The Cooks first met at Fisk University, a historically Black university in Nashville, where they were very politically active. They protested the Vietnam War and fought for equality.

“We were just having a really good time, but we also had an opportunity to challenge some things we thought were not good for us as people or for the country as a whole,” Angela Cook said. “So it gave us a lot of opportunity to use our voices to speak for what we thought was [unjust] or racist.”

The Cooks, along with six other people, founded Paige Academy in 1975 based on the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

They opened the school during the turbulent start of desegregation of Boston’s public schools and at a time when many of the city’s schools were shutting down.

“People were wondering, ‘Well, why would you open a school when schools are closing?” Joe Cook recalled. “Our response was ‘We’re opening a different type of school. One that’s African centered. One that speaks to the needs of the inner-city family. We want a school that’s culturally resonant.’”

Over the years the school became very popular among families but faced a good number of financial struggles. Although the academy charged tuition, the Cooks did not want it to be unaffordable for the average student. That meant they had to raise funds elsewhere.

“The community has just always been so engaging and loving and kind,” Angela Cook said. “There were many times when we didn’t have enough money to pay the bills and pay the payroll. We had to ask teachers to wait until we got some money, and the teachers agreed to do that.”

They also struggled to get a school building and making sure everything was up to code.

“Joe and I were lucky enough to come from families that were able to help us,” Angela Cook said.

She said the most rewarding part of educating students has been seeing them succeed. Their first class of students are now well into their 50s. Many went on to attend elite schools in the New England area and now have good jobs.

“I see them, and they are so smart,” she said. “They’re so confident … they feel really proud of themselves and we’re proud of them. I really like that that’s my job.”

The school has become a “beacon of hope” for the Black community in Roxbury, Joe Cook added.

“We’ve anchored the community in a way that the community comes together. It’s helped us keep Black people in this community and not be overwhelmed by gentrification,” he said.

Trinja Watson, a parent of two Paige Academy students — one entering sixth grade, the other, second grade — said the school has been “exceptional” for her children.

“Academically, they’re at a level that’s higher than I would have even expected,” she said. “I understand that’s the norm for the kids who go to Paige Academy. Their level of learning is so high above what one would expect.”

Watson said she wished she interacted more with the Cooks but added that they are excellent at what they do. She said she is “blessed to be one of the parents of Paige Academy.”

The Cooks said the next person to fill their position needs to be passionate about education and enthusiastic about working with children of all races and ethnicities.

“We’ve interviewed a lot of people so far,” Angela Cook said. “We really are trying to find someone who really has a passion for doing this and doesn’t need to make a lot of money.”

Despite the decades of hard work and financial struggle, Angela and Joe Cook said there isn’t anything they would change about their journey.

“If we had to do it over again, we would do it in a heartbeat,” Angela Cook said. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s been rewarding academically, emotionally and personally.”

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