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Opinion

Taking the Wheel at Automotive High School


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Kevin Bryant, the author


The challenges I’ve faced as both a teacher and a principal have not only shaped my approach to education, but they’ve defined my career and my accomplishments.

During my four years as the Principal of Frances Perkins Academy I always sought new ways to challenge myself, colleagues and staff, students, and their families. By setting high standards and pushing ourselves to meet them, our school realized our boundless potential to exceed our own expectations, and those laid out by others. This idea guided my tenure at Frances Perkins and it will continue to guide me as Master Principal of Automotive High School, where I’ll lead the day-to-day turnaround and still continue to support Frances Perkins. I’m at the point in my career where I know I can do this hard work.

Over the last two years Automotive High School has been under immense scrutiny as it was named one of the lowest performing schools in the city. As a principal on the same campus as Automotive, I’ve seen its staff and students in the hallways and in meetings. I’ve seen their strengths and the persistent challenges that exist. I see hope, promise, hard workers, and the tenacity to do better. I enter my new role clear-eyed, knowing full-well that the road to progress will not be easy, but that it starts with earning the trust of my new colleagues and students and setting specific goals that will challenge us as a school and help us strive toward excellence.

In setting these goals and benchmarks, we need to first acknowledge that economic, achievement, and opportunity gaps persist. These can only be bridged when our students, teachers, and parents have a safe and supportive environment that invites them to become active and willing partners in education.

At Frances Perkins, we implemented a program similar to an advisory, in which a student and teacher were paired and met regularly to discuss the student’s progress and address any issues the student might be facing, either in and out of the classroom. This program was rooted in trust and accountability: it offered a safe and consistent space where teachers expected their students to show up, and students expected teachers to be there for them. Ultimately, the program helped increase both student attendance and teacher retention. I also instituted an open-door policy for parents, ensuring they always had the opportunity to ask me questions, voice concerns, and remain up-to-date on their child’s progress.

At Automotive I again plan to address some of the school’s greatest challenges by strengthening the relationship between students and teachers, fostering greater collaboration with our community based organization, encouraging parents to play a greater role in our school.

I want staff and students to feel supported by the administration and by each other; I want parents to feel welcome in our school and invested in its success; and I want to instill in our school the idea that every student, regardless of their circumstances, is capable of excellence. I know from first-hand experience that these efforts will pave the way for stronger instruction, an increase in enrollment, higher teacher retention, and expanded career and technical education (CTE) programming—something Automotive has the tools and resources to truly excel in. These efforts will all address our shared goal of improved student performance, helping our young people open more doors for themselves in the future.

At times the tasks ahead will seem daunting and as the new principal of a Renewal School I expect scrutiny from our community and the media. However, I plan to use the attention we receive as an opportunity to challenge the perception of school turnaround and to highlight the change, progress, and growth that I know will take place at Automotive.

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Kevin Bryant is Master Principal of Automotive High School.

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