The transformation of two of our city's most troubled inner-city schools into performing, safe and viable places of education is happening. Slowly, painfully, like thawing an iceberg or moving stones away from a tomb.
But it's happening. The outlook for Brainerd High and Howard School of Academics and Technology is better than in previous years.
Such work takes a village of teachers, staff and parents, but rarely can it happen without leadership, like Dr. Paul Smith at Howard, a principal I've written about in previous columns.
And Charles Joynes at Brainerd.
Keep an eye on Joynes. A close eye. Three years ago, he made a promise to then-superintendent Dr. Jim Scales: Give me five years, and Brainerd will be a different place. Smarter. Safer. More successful.
If he pulls this off, Joynes deserves the 2013 Principal of the Year and his faculty should all get raises. Because three years ago, he walked into a job with a thousand dead ends. Gang violence. ACT scores barely in double digits. The heavy despair of poverty. Kids who don't see a future past parole.
But things are being rebuilt. Joynes, who probably never sleeps or takes a vacation and digs into his own wallet to help students buy clothes and their poor parents pay the electric bill, has begun to change the way he speaks about his school.
Words he would not have spoken three years ago hit the air, and instead of breaking like fragile balloons, they offer something Brainerd hasn't had in a while: hope.
"Think about this," Joynes said. "We've had a couple of kids in the past score 18 or higher [on the ACT]. Now, I've got kids scoring 23 and 21 and several 18s. We haven't done that before."
Major discipline infractions have decreased. The worst gang members have been expelled. Try to find any negative news on Brainerd High in the press from this school year.
"None at all," he said.
He calls, emails, shakes hands, knocks on doors, all looking for funding and support, anything that will help, from pennies and nickels to foundation grants. He wants to surround his students with positive influence, especially since he estimates only 5 percent of parents are directly involved in their lives.
"I look at every single avenue possible to support children and faculty," he said.
What he's talking about is love. Why else would he take such a job? Why else would Joynes begin to initiate a series of conversations with his students about tough issues most folks would rather sweep out into the back alley?
"I'm in the process of doing presentations and talking to my young people so that they truly, truly understand that they have the ability to be very successful and they have to make better choices," he said.
Earlier this spring, Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters Kevin Hardy and Joan Garrett spent time at Brainerd and documented one of those presentations in their April 1 front-page story. With the female students in another auditorium -- discussing ways to prevent teen pregnancy -- Joynes had gathered all male students into the gym, and asked half of them to stand.
"This is the percentage out of this whole group that typically won't graduate," he said in front of Hardy. "This is the percentage going to jail."
We've reached the point in Hamilton County where half of a school's male students are bound for jail. Not college. Not jobs. But jail. This is madness.
And that's why it's hard to overstate the importance of Joynes and his leadership.
After the article ran, Joynes was praised -- in the community, on Facebook, within the school -- and also criticized. Being so transparent and honest, it seems, is not a trait others applaud.
"All choices have consequences," he likes to tell his students. "Good and bad."
Hamilton County leadership has done great things by placing Joynes at Brainerd. The consequences -- good and getting better -- will continue to emerge. The transformation is happening.
David Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Cook is the metro columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. A graduate of Red Bank High, Cook holds a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English literature degree from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. For the last twelve years, Cook has been a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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