MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 20, 2012

Strong leadership key to success

Edwin Strickland uses discipline and academic rigor to change the culture at Alice Robertson Junior High.

Other Muskogee principals have their ways — and personalities —  to bring such expectations to their schools, Muskogee Public Schools Superintendent Mike Garde said.

Garde said Strickland knows how to use proven procedures to help a struggling school.

“There’s no question the practices he’s using can work at other places,” Garde said. “He makes clear his expectation to students. When you have expectations, you make these expectations clear when you enforce their consequences.”

Still, AR was in a different situation than other Muskogee schools, Garde said.

“AR’s culture wasn’t very healthy,” he said.

Strickland came to Muskogee in April 2011 to help the school, which was suffering from discipline problems and low test scores. Before coming to Muskogee, Strickland was a vice president for a charter school management association and a middle school principal.

Changes Strickland made at AR include an academic probation for students failing classes, meeting individually with struggling students and stiffer penalties for students caught fighting.

Strickland, a motivational speaker, also makes his program work at AR through the power of his personality, Garde said

“His personality and his persona make things happen,” Garde said. “In dealing with an issue, he keeps it in a positive direction.”

On the other hand, Muskogee High School has had a strong character-building program for several years. In 2011, MHS was recognized as a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership.

“Strong character is the culture of the high school,” Garde said.

Character is developed through the school’s advocacy program, which matches students with MHS staff members, who serve as mentors through the year. Participating staff members and student groups meet regularly.

Garde said Dewayne Pemberton, MHS principal since 2010, is a key to the school’s success.

“Pemberton is a strong leader, and he establishes rapport with the students,” he said. “He gets in front of the students and encourages them.”

Rougher Alternative Academy is more structured and rigid, Garde said.

“RAA has a very positive culture, but very structured,” he said, adding that RAA does not have the extra-curricular activities MHS and AR have. RAA kids can go to the other schools for the activities.

Strickland said teamwork between administration and teachers helps a school succeed.

However, he said the program he implemented at AR is “not a magic plan”

“Every school is unique,” Strickland said. “Each school has its own personality. Anything teachers and administrators come up with must have its number one goal of what is best for the students.”

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogee phoenix.com.

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