Martin Luther King High School boasts a extraordinary photo collection of the civil rights leader for whom it is named, and parents or other visitors milling in the front office have ample opportunities to view the portraits and to be inspired by the commitment of the former leader who believed in education for all God’s children. Principal Patrick put this memorial collection together, and it represents only a slice of his overall commitment to inspire children to succeed.
Once upon a time, MLK High School could be remembered fondly by students as a place where they had ample opportunities to enjoy one another, often with their enjoyment not focused on academic matters. The same can no longer be said today. This principal has focused on organization, organization, organization. He has put policies in place and procedures for getting things done that have allowed the staff to galvanize around a common vision of operation. He has inspired new student commitments to education and is always focused on ways they might improve. Most of all, he is committed to being sure his children have all the academic opportunities that might be available any student anywhere.
Testing is one of Principal Patrick’s big concerns. Not content to simply allow his students to take IB or AP exams from programs his school offers, he is honing in on understanding the barriers that keep students from performing successfully. Together with his teachers, they review reports, plan new strategies, and commit themselves to making sure the students have all the tools they need for success. This kind of determination is that which would make the slain civil rights leader proud.
If you don’t believe Principal Benford when she says the teachers at Cedar Grove High School means business are serious about teaching, follow her down any hallway and observe for yourself. On a Friday afternoon, just before dismissal, students are engaged in group work; teachers are lecturing; halls are almost empty of students sauntering to bathroom or other erstwhile breaks; and the focus everywhere is on instruction. Cedar Grove is determined to serve well its students and to make sure those students know they are matriculating at a very good school.
The goal is to teach from the heart, according to Principal Benford. From all evidences, she has managed to inspire all her teachers to be on board with the plan. Ask any one of them randomly about the unifying purpose of the school and every teacher will quip: “Teaching with heart.” Even students seem to respond to the message permeating the school’s climate. Imagine high school young men being told to take off a hat or pull up pants and seeing those students’ faces widen in a slow grin, accompanied by immediate compliance. In a similar situation in another school, the response of the student would more likely be defiance. At Cedar Grove, the response is quick compliance. The students seem convinced that Principal Benford is committed to their development and that she will “go the last mile” for them. Because they see the heart she and the other teachers have for them, they seem to want to represent themselves as the proud “saints” (the “saints” is the school mascot).
A parent in the hallway announces with pride that it is a new day at Cedar Grove, and she gives the credit for the new climate to Principal Benford. Even faculty meetings have become filled with laughter and light-hearted as a principal encourages her team to move beyond teaching materials to teaching children. How? From the heart, of course.
The doors of opportunity are swinging wide this year as Mr. Dixon begins his second year as principal of Miller Grove Middle School. See the opportunities for students in the 100 new recruits to band, watch it as the full band marches with the Miller Grover High School during football games, prepare to download it digitally or turn the pages of the first-time yearbook, clap hard for the Lego club in competition, or marvel at the anticipated Reflection entries. Wherever you look, it is a new day in a school already known for its athletics and its success in the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl. In addition to myriad new initiatives that also strengthen his curriculum delivery, Mr. Dixon is emphatic that students be given multiple opportunities to allow their creativity to shine.
Perhaps the surge of activity can be attributed to the “coach” model the school has implemented. What is it that good coaches do to make teams successful? They teach, inspire, encourage, motivate, at least that is what the faculty of Miller Grove has decided. It is a practice they believe they can emulate, especially when they work in collaborative ways for the benefit of their children. Walk anywhere in the school, and the reminder is evident. Coach Dixon is one among the many coaches on the teaching staff determined to create a community of success.
Students are not the only ones benefitting from the new focus. Ask the parents who are part of the Mom and Dad’s initiative. If you see the group of dads who come to school every morning to greet and monitor students as they enter the school, you know are in the right place. Of course, you might see the mothers also. Should you miss these parents helping students, you could also drop into the brand new Parent Center that is part of the school’s fabric. Why force community members to drive miles from the neighborhood to use a computer to check on a job? Miller Grove Middle makes life easy. All over the campus, extracurricular, curricular, and parental change is in the air. At Miller Grove, teachers are putting all the pieces together to create a winning team. As far as this principal is concerned, the game has begun, coaches are on board, and team is primed for success.
Teachers at Redan Middle School have a brand new book on the professional reading list for the year. It is not one required by any federal or state programs, but it is a book the principal is utilizing to stimulate conversation around basic values of teaching. Principal Johnson-Reese believes in professional educators understanding the situations out of which children come as a precursor to educating those children. She believes in building relationships with community members and in creating positive relationships with students and teachers. The book is one way she and her faculty create a language for the culture they are trying to achieve.
She and the faculty are, in her words, “branding” the school. They want the school to become known as a place consistent for its values. In her mind the plan is like expecting every sip of every coke to deliver a likeable and known result. In a similar manner, she hopes Redan Middle will be consistent in its ability to create rigor, routines, and relationships. She also wants Redan Middle to become known for its community outreach, and this principal is working diligently to reach out to churches and other groups in the community who can further support the development of the children.
Can you imagine a Pamper Party for girls and their mothers on Girls’ Day in the school? This is just one example of the way this principal is seeking to build relationships with the young men and women in her school. Only in her second year at the school, Principal Johnson-Reese has a big vision, and that vision is already taking off.
If you are spotted being a participant in the “Pay it Forward” Program at Columbia Middle School, you just might find yourself the recipient of one of the big green Eagles Spirit Bucks. Although not legal tender, these $100 laminated goodies are redeemable for all kinds of rewards for those embodying the values of the school: Be respectful, be responsible, be ready. How do students pay it forward? They do so in the little things—when they are selfless and give away to others. Framed from the movie Pay it Forward, the students and teachers at Columbia are intertwined in a school climate that makes it expectations clear and rewards students for their part in the communal values.
Imagine Ms. Amey, the school’s principal, in assembly every two weeks with the student body. In this setting, from a principal committed to their success, students are fed hefty doses of the expectations she and the school have for them. “The students are awesome; they are brilliant; they are courteous.” Their principal calls her talks to them the ABC’s, and the students respond. Even in the halls can be heard “Who loves you,” from a caring principal and the response of a middle schooler, “You do.”
Caring in the school climate matters, and Columbia Middle School is committed to moving beyond mandates and creating a setting where kids matter and teachers function as collaborative professionals. The professional conversations that are part of faculty meetings reveal the depth of the school’s commitment. But, the ways the whole student body embraces the vision is most evidenced by the transfer student who sold well above the minimum requirement for the project of a very involved PTSA. Why did the new student do more than was necessary? The principal thought it was because she offered a free dance ticket to all students who met the requirement. However, the student’s mom says he told her the “teachers are nice; they care about us.” Because the teacher cared, the student was committed to doing his part for his new school.
Watch him on his daily bus duty. Rain or shine, Redan High School students know their principal, Mr. Goodwin, will be the authority figure to whom they say their good-byes each afternoon. With a broad smile, he alternately encourages and reprimands. The students receive his words with explanations, laughter, and sometimes a kind of “you got me” smile. But, they listen, and they give him respect. Above all, they seem to know this leader has their best interests at the heart of all he does and says.
As the principal of a large suburban high school, Mr. Goodwin is always in constant motion, effectively monitoring the most minute aspects of life at Redan. He encourages his teachers to teach the curriculum and to always go the extra mile to be sure students are learning. This consistency and dedication, he believes, are the key to a quality school. His staff apparently values his orientation. The retention rate at Redan for teachers is 98%, well above the national average.
Students, however, are his primary concern. At Redan, students choose from a wide variety of clubs and anticipate Thursdays as club day. Those students needing extra help utilize afternoon tutorials. Of all his programs, Mr. Goodwin is especially congratulatory of the Men of Redan and Ladies of Redan. Both of these forums provide avenues through which students are given to engage in community service, to take field trips together, and to become part of experiential learning opportunities. No minimum GPA is required to get into either of the clubs, but like many other aspects of this principal’s values, increasing the GPA becomes part of what allows students to maintain membership.
Teaching in the Urban South (TITUS) is a community-university partnership. TITUS aims to connect educational leaders in public schools in DeKalb County with Emory scholars and students during summer learning opportunities and year-round events. We hope to create collaborative spaces for school-based inquiry where participants can engage in a dialogue and exchange of best practices.