Ryan Middle School Principal Michael McKenzieSixth grade girls at Ryan Middle School have just finished lunch. But instead of hurrying off to class, Principal Michael McKenzie gives them a little talk. He tells them they look beautiful, smart and ready to learn.
"You better not try this boyfriend stuff. Forget about it. I’m not going to have it. You can’t even spell boyfriend."
The girls laugh as they stand in a straight line wearing their blue and white uniforms. This year at Ryan the boys and girls have separate classes. It’s part of the changes Principal McKenzie is making in order to change the school’s culture.
"If you’re a young lady, you’re coming to science class. It’s about science. It’s not about the boy you have a crush on. We’re in middle school. So that’s different. We also have a morning ritual, which is the students come in every morning and they are addressed by me the principal on a daily basis in terms of behavior expectation."
It’s the first week of school. Most HISD schools haven’t even started yet. But last year Ryan was one of the worst performing schools in the district. So this year they’re starting earlier and staying longer. The superintendent also brought in new leadership to try new things. And that’s what they’re doing: things like making boys wear ties and having separate classes for each gender. Algebra teacher Claudia Sylvester can see the difference.
"They sit up taller. They walk taller they feel good about themselves. It’s more like you’re going to a business interview instead of just going to school."
At other schools the first week is when students show off their new back to school clothes. Assistant principal Jhacole Le Grand says that can create problems for kids who may not have any.
"Do they see my poverty? Do they see the fact that my dad lost his job? Do they see all those obstacles that I have to face outside of this campus? So much of this is not just reading, writing and arithmetic — it’s a social piece, a social and emotional piece that we’re working with here."
Last year Ryan was one of the worst schools in the district. This year the staff fully expects to be one of the best.
Bill Stamps KUHF News.