Inside the front doors of the Promise Academy at Martin Luther King High School, just past the security check-in station, sits a display table. On it, there are five ties. Each is a different color, but all serve the same purpose.
On this, the first day of the 2012-13 school year, Principal William Wade finds himself repeatedly reminding the estimated 600 of 909 who showed up on Stenton Avenue in East Germantown that they will, in fact, wear one each and every time they enter the building.
“No exceptions. Ties for girls, too,” he tells one student around 9 a.m. Friday. “We’re building something here.”
That they are.
Their sophomore year
Friday’s half-day marked the beginning of Wade’s second year at MLK. He arrived on the tail-end of an Arlene Ackerman-related charter controversy, with his school’s 2011-12 budget and roster already established.
This day is different to Wade, who roamed the halls checking in on classrooms and helping students find their way around a building with a new layout.
Where before students were separated by age, now classrooms are grouped by subject. (It allows for greater teacher collaboration at the Promise Academy, he explains.) They’ve also adjusted the schedule so students would spend longer periods of time in class sessions.
“Last year, we were all new. It was a tough year,” he says. “Now, I can step into the hallway and I know the students, I know their families. These are my kids now.”
The first-day scene
Throughout the morning, the principal could not walk 10 steps without a student asking where they were supposed to be.
Where’s room 106? (“You’re not far. Down that hall, through those doors to the right.”)
Mr. Wade, I need to talk to you about changing my schedule! (“Come to my office at 12:30 [p.m.] Door’s always open.”)
When one student inquired about the school’s credit-recovery program (a mechanism through which they can catch up with their grade level), he’s told that, “You can’t make up a class in 10 days!”
Upon hearing students answer Miami to his inquiry about the senior-class trip destination, he notes that if that comes to bear, “I will get fired.”
And, among the funnier requests not too far from the ground-level entrance: “Why are you calling the first floor the second floor?” (They start counting at the basement.)
He urges seniors, particularly those on the football team, to think about exhibiting “leadership” qualities on and off the field. He reminds a student interested in arts (namely dance) to put the hair brush away and remember to wear the required uniform.
“Why do we require you to dress this way?” Wade asks of an English class into which he walked. “Yes, it keeps us safe and sound. This is an ID, isn’t it? When we see someone who isn’t dressed like this, we know they’re visiting.
“Remember, ties on Monday. I’m going to the Salvation Army to pick a bunch up this weekend, but don’t depend on me to have one for you. And, black or brown shoes. Leave the sneakers for phys ed.”
To an outside observer, it would appear that Wade’s accessibility and collegiality is paying off.
For one thing, he says more students than expected showed up for this half day, and they were eager to get inside.
For another, even after he chases students back into classrooms from which they were released before the bell rang, they would scowl, but then they would readily engage “Mr. Wade” in conversation.
He talks about how the average career-stop lifespan for many urban high-school principals is less than two years but that “the successful ones, they stay around for a while.” He was intimating that he planned to do just that.
“They say we don’t have diamonds here? We have some great kids,” Wade exclaims. “This place is not what it used to be.”
And then, the principal and culinary-arts teach was off down another hallway to keep the momentum rolling.