Ryan Middle School Principal Michael McKenzie"To use an analogy, a San Francisco Forty-Niners-/Oakland Raiders-type situation, where you know the history is strong. You know there are championships there, so what can we do to get to those historic days? So, I've been brought in to restore the historic Ryan campus."
One of the first thing McKenzie has done is change the dress code. No more baggie jeans or t-shirts. In fact, McKenzie is even taking it a step further by requiring boys to wear ties. You heard it: ties.
"We have to prepare our students to compete in a global market. And so, if I have a young man who is desirous to be an architect and who wants a business loan of $200 thousand dollars, you can't show up there with your pants sagging and dusty shoes."
McKenzie says it's all about setting the right expectations.
"They want to be somewhere were the standards are high. And if those expectations, in terms of global competition, are high, then we have to set the bar here at the historic Ryan campus."
The changes Principal McKenzie and his staff are about to make conjure image of the 1989 movie Lean on Me starring Morgan Freeman as principal Joe Clark, a no-nonsense guy who raises test scores at an inner city school.
Freeman: "I've got a message for those people out there who have abandoned you and written you off. You are not inferior."
Jhacole Le Grande is joining the new staff at Ryan Middle School as the one of the assistant principals. She says making the kids dress better and having the boys wear ties sets the tone for the entire school day.
"When you put your best on, you feel different. You conduct yourself differently. People look at you differently."
And how do parents feel about these changes?
"You have parents who say 'thank you.' Because when you leave the school day and you ride through the streets of Third Ward, and you cannot recognize a middle school learner from a young man that's in a gang, that's an issue."
The new staff is pretty confident they'll be able to do what the old one couldn't.
Le Grande: "We speak in the affirmative. We know..."
Stamps: "The grades and test scores will improve?"
Le Grande: "...they will improve. It's not about evolution; it's a revolution. We're about to make some really positive things happen here."
Students start class — ties and all — first thing Monday morning.
Bill Stamps, KUHF News.