COMMENTARY: Primary mission at Mingus Union is love
My name is Genie Gee and I am the principal of Mingus Union High School. As you may know, our school has gotten some attention regarding our red and gray student ID cards. This piece isn’t intended to review any details or make any points about that issue; it has been resolved.
It wasn’t resolved because our attorneys directed us to make any changes and it wasn’t resolved because the ACLU demanded it. We chose to resolve this situation because we need the focus of our school to be on learning and the well-being of each and every student.
The assertion by the ACLU that we don’t care about our students is heartbreaking and couldn’t be further from the truth.
For those of you who have ever heard me speak at our school, whether at graduation or at a parent meeting or at a community event, the message is always the same – it’s all about love. I love our students, I love our school, and I love our community.
I loved every minute of being a classroom teacher and never had any real intention of giving that up.
My decision to pursue Educational Leadership came right after Sandy Hook. I wanted to be a part of decision-making and to give my all to emphasize love, hope, and optimism at a time when it’s so desperately needed. I didn’t start graduate school to be the principal of “a” school … I wanted to be the principal of this school. Mingus Union High School.
Did I know if I’d ever get there? No. But I raised my kids in this community, my family lives in this community and I will retire in this community and it was worth it to me to try.
Mingus Union High School has incredible students; they are worth every effort and deserving of every program and opportunity that we could possibly offer.
Last year we began diving into our data surrounding failure rates and graduation rate – and we had a problem. What did we know for sure? We knew that we had to provide opportunities for students to get the help they need during the school day and we knew we couldn’t wait. We formed a committee to solve this problem and Power Hour/Academic Overtime was the result.
We provide a one-hour block in the middle of the school day that allows for tutoring and academic time with teachers.
If students have Ds or Fs, Academic Overtime is mandatory because we care about our students’ success. Since the implementation of this program, failure rates have decreased by 50 percent.
We looked at more data. Our Gallup Poll results told us that some of our students felt hopeless and were not optimistic about their futures.
They didn’t feel connected. What did we know for sure? We know that relationships are game-changers, our kids needed us, and we knew we couldn’t wait. We formed a committee to solve this problem and Advisory Period was the result.
Every Wednesday, students attend Advisory class with other grade level peers and participate in team-building, social-emotional learning, and college and career preparation activities. Already we’ve seen improvements in student well-being and connectivity.
These days, school safety is a concern. We have a beautiful campus designed for a school – amazing views, multiple buildings, ball fields, etc.
Those multiple buildings and entrances can make it difficult to monitor activity. We didn’t have a way to know who should be on campus and we had to make a change.
What did we know for sure? We knew that we had to know who had permission to be on our campus and who did not and we knew we couldn’t wait. This year, students, staff, and visitors are required to wear campus “credentials” on a lanyard around their necks. This system allows for easy identification on this campus of 1400 people.
What else have we done? We’ve branded our school with Mingus Pride banners, we’ve increased communication with parents, extended community partnerships, hired a full-time security guard, we added the Hope Closet to provide food and necessary clothing and hygiene items to students in need, we’ve updated the front office, and we’ve worked very hard to continue to provide a solid education for our students in the best environment possible.
And it’s only year one.
This issue with the ACLU was a concern and we have not taken it lightly. Our leadership team and our staff have never had an issue with updating practices when needed and have already done so. In one semester, we have accomplished some incredible feats. We’ve made innovative changes with the best intentions at heart. No decision is made in isolation, but it is my job to accept responsibility for every decision that is made for our school – and I accept it fully. Some decisions have unintended consequences, but are the result of trying. We are in the arena and there is no effort without error.
Please know that Mingus Union High School is your community school. There is new leadership at Mingus and we are doing things differently. We are reviewing systems and practices and encouraging innovation while still honoring the traditions that make Mingus special to so many people. You may have attended Mingus or maybe you’ve heard about our school. You may have a great opinion or you may think we need some work. All I ask is this: give us some time. Please give us some time to show you what we can do.
The support we’ve received this year from our families and the community has been amazing. Your support is appreciated and necessary. We need you.
Every chance I get, I tell everyone how much I love our school and how wonderful it really is to be there.
This is what I know for sure: love is not words; love is action. When I stand before you and tell you I love our students, our school, and this community, you may believe it’s true. But when you see the action being taken as a result of that love… my hope is that you will know it’s true.
Genie Gee is the acting superintendent and principal of Mingus Union High School.