There’s a lot of energy any time you visit one of the Gwinnett County Public Schools. But visit on the day of the big pep rally and it’s off the charts.
I spent last Wednesday at Lawrenceville’s Moore Middle School as part of the Principal for a Day program. I had an outline of what my day would be like, but the pep rally wasn’t on my initial itinerary. It didn’t take long to find out about it, though.
Before I could get out of the parking lot I met a parent volunteer who welcomed me.
“Glad to have you,” she said. “You’ll get to see the pep rally. It will be loud.”
In the front office, the pep rally came up again. And when I got into the office of Principal Lamont Mays, his printed outline for the day included a visit to the pep rally after lunch. It was official: I would get to see up close what everyone was so excited about.
The pep rally didn’t disappoint, and neither did my day at the school. Though not as boisterous as the drum line and cheerleaders who turned the gym into a deafening celebration of both the basketball teams and the school itself, Mays is no slouch when it comes to school spirit.
Previously an assistant middle school principal at Hull and Osborne, Mays opened Moore Middle three years ago. He was drawn to the Title I school (82 percent of Moore’s enrollment is on free or reduced lunches) and the chance to mold it from its infancy.
Like the cheerleaders who did their best to motivate the basketball teams for their opening games, Mays spends his days supporting the student body, exhorting them to be “anchored in excellence” instead of being OK with doing OK. To him, Title I can be a designation but it shouldn’t prompt resignation.
“We benchmark ourselves against non-Title I schools,” he said, referring to testing. “In our first two years we’ve taken some steps, and we feel we’re on the right track to where we want to go.”
I’ve had the privilege of participating in the Principal for a Day program for six years now, and with each visit I find leaders with different personalties but very similar goals. Every principal has his or her own way of leading, and it’s interesting to see how those different approaches garner similar results. It’s also interesting to find the thing that makes each school unique.
What stands out at Moore is the STEP Academy, a program designed for at-risk, over-aged eighth-grade students that allows them to complete eight and ninth grade course work in one school year. Those who complete the program transition to 10th grade and remain on track to graduate with their peers.
Though the program is housed at Moore, the students follow a high school time schedule. The teacher-to-student ratio is smaller than the school at large, and each course is taught through computer stations and with a collaborative teaching effort. Mays said he is proud of the chance to take a struggling student and turn things around for him or her.
“What keeps me motivated, keeps me passionate, is knowing we can impact a community,” he said. “That’s why I’m excited about our STEP program. If the mind set in those kids changes, it not only helps them but can help this program.
“It’s hard to do two years in one, (but once you’ve had kids do it you can say): ‘Look what this means if you go through it successfully.” It’s a nice accomplishment for our school, something to be proud of. But I want it for them more than me.”
The shool is named for the late Robbie Susan Moore, a community leader who served on many boards in the county and was one of the first black poll managers in Gwinnett. Her potrait greets you when you enter the school, and the standards she set in community service are aspired to by Mays, his students and teachers.
“We want to do that name proud,” Mays said. “We don’t take that term ‘excellence’ lightly. She met people and impacted people, and we want to do the same.”
In that regard, every day is a pep rally at Moore Middle School, with Mays beating the drum for what his students can accomplish.
Email Todd Cline at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Wednesdays.