Four years ago, Damian Briscoe concluded he had little use for school and planned to drop out, as many of his buddies had.
"I figured there was nothing I could learn in school that I couldn't learn in the streets," he said. "I figured I could do it on my own."
Yesterday, in a classroom at Lake Clifton-Eastern High School, Damian, resplendent in a blue pinstriped suit, wowed U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Superintendent Walter G. Amprey and others.
The 17-year-old senior told them about his years at the school's Academy of Finance -- the finance course he takes at Morgan State University, his class trip to the New York Stock Exchange, his summer internship with a financial services company, his high grades, his college plans. He spoke of the stock market, inflation, the recession, unemployment.
Mr. Riley congratulated Damian and the other estimated 65 students in the academy, and said it exemplifies the innovation needed to prepare American children for a rapidly changing work force.
"Our education system is still rooted in the old assembly line vision of education . . . and we simply often are not preparing our children fast enough for this new, emerging, changing global economy," Mr. Riley said. "To reinvent American education, you have to start with the basics -- a commitment to excellence and high standards to end the tyranny of low expectations of our children."
During his two-hour visit, Mr. Riley released a U.S. Education Department report that concluded schools have failed to keep pace with workplace needs.
The 81-page report -- "Quality Education: School Reform for the New American Economy" -- said 89 percent of the U.S. jobs created by 2000 will require skills taught in college or other postsecondary schools. But, the report said, only half of those entering the work force at the turn of the century will have the necessary skills.
The two-year, college-preparatory program at Clifton-Eastern, started in 1987, offers budding capitalists schooling in banking and credit, financial planning, computer science, accounting and securities operations. Students also receive training in resume writing, job interviewing -- and dining etiquette.
The city school system pays half of the program's $110,000 annual cost; the rest comes from financial service companies, funneled through the nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence.
Corporate partners also provide nine-week summer internships and a year-round mentor for each student.
Today, the academy is an undisputed success.
Consider that the 2,300-student Clifton-Eastern has an 18 percent annual dropout rate, only eight of 10 students attend daily, and only one in four goes to college.
The academy, which accepts students from throughout the city based on grade point average, boasts a near-perfect attendance rate, and nearly all of those who complete the program go to college.
The nonprofit National Academy of Finance, which started the first academy in New York City public schools in 1982, coordinates 115 of the programs nationwide.