Bermuda-born principal is turning around troubled schools
It is possible I might return to Bermuda
Charles Joynes doesnt know where he will work as a principal next year, Bermuda is a real possibility.
The Bermuda-born educator has spent the last two decades working in the United States.
Hes keeping his options open for the upcoming year. His choices? A possible move to another school in Chattanooga or principal of a new charter school.
However the lure of Bermuda is very strong for the 54-year-old former Sandys Secondary School teacher.
My mom is getting older and I just think it is time for me to be there to do something, Mr Joynes said.
Ive done so much for so many people out here that I think it is time. Im at least going to look at the options to see whats available and if anything is available — a principalship or something — Ill at least look at it. If nothing is available then Ill wait and when the time is right Ill look at it again.
Ive been thinking about it for the last year or two. I actually applied at one point and they finally did get back with me and said give it some more time, were waiting on a few things. Then they finally called back and said they were ready to look at some things, but at that point I had already accepted another position because I didnt want to not have a job.
The school system in Bermuda has changed somewhat in the 20 years since Mr Joynes left Bermuda, but he feels he has much to contribute.
I was at Sandys for five years and really enjoyed my time at Sandys, he said. When I first came out here I was a teacher for a few years and then they recruited me to be an assistant principal. After that I was a principal at six schools.
I got an e-mail from my mom and we were talking about her 80th birthday coming up and I got to thinking it has been 20 years since I left Sandys. I see her almost every year but its not like being there. Ive been giving it some real soul searching, especially in the last two months, and even called a principal friend of mine in Bermuda to see if there were any jobs down there. Im heavily thinking about it.
Hes unsure whether he would stay at Brainerd or move to another school in the district should he remain in Tennessee.
A new superintendent has made things somewhat uncertain, he said.
The former superintendent left this district this past year and the new superintendent looks like he has a different vision. A lot of us are really not sure where his vision is.
My superintendent hinted I could possibly be going to an elementary school. I know a lot of people are not going to like that because were on the verge of really turning this school around.
Despite the options, Mr Joynes feels the time is right to consider returning home.
I would miss it, but if I have an opportunity to come home and be a principal at an elementary school in the Country that gave me my start Ill be loving it just as much, he said. When I was at Sandys I loved it. I was married at the time and my wife (an American) was homesick so we left.
With three sons all grown, Mr Joynes says the decision to come home is easier to make.
Its definitely in my mind and my heart right now, said Mr Joynes, who grew up on Crawl Hill in Hamilton Parish. Ill be out of school here in about six weeks and Ive got to make some real decisions.
Bermuda-born principal Charles Joynes was recently featured in a US newspaper for his efforts to turn around a troubled high school in Tennessee.
Mr Joynes has spent the last 20 years working as an educator in the US — the last three as principal of Brainerd High School.
According to his estimates, reported in the Chatanooga Free Times Press, 35 percent of the schools 636 students are gang members.
Mr Joynes has been a principal of schools in Tennessee for 15 years.
They have been typically putting me in the worst schools in our district, the toughest, toughest schools and have left me to turn them around, he told The Royal Gazette.
They would put me in a school and I would turn it around and then they turn around and put me in another difficult school. I told them this year I didnt want to move anymore, just let me do what Ive got to do here.
Ive had the toughest students. Im looking at pictures on my wall right now of three students who were killed last year, all shot in the head. The last one was actually in my office about a week before it happened. I was telling him I was so proud of him because he was turning his life around and getting out of the gangs, passing his classes. A week later they shot and killed him.
Determined to tackle the problems at the school Mr Joynes recently called a meeting for all students. The boys were sent to the gym; the girls to the auditorium.
He asked half the boys to stand and then delivered a sobering statistic: This is the percentage out of this whole group that typically wont graduate ... this is the percentage going to jail.
Raising hope in an often hopeless environment is one of Mr Joynes biggest challenges. When he took over as principal at Brainerd the school had many issues — gang violence, college entrance scores barely in double figures, teen pregnancies; children who generally couldnt expect a bright future. He made a promise to the superintendent of the Education Department, Jim Scales, that he would turn Brainerd into a different place; that it would be smarter, safer and more successful in five years.
One problem he faced was there were students who wouldnt try to better themselves even when minimal effort was all that was required.
Mr Joynes told the Free Times Press: Its not that they cant do it. There is nothing wrong with their brains. They are just saying that is too much work or I dont like the subject.
I have children that, I kid you not, if I tell them put your name on this paper, I will give you an A, they wont put their name on the paper.
Brainerd High School is located on the east side of Chattanooga, miles from downtown. Its students are teenagers from rough neighbourhoods — the Harriet Tubman projects, Woodlawn Apartments and Battery Heights.
The area was once mostly white and suburban. Minority students were bused into the school in the late 1960s and white people left — the faces of the student population and the schools principals started to look different.
It earned a reputation for drug dealing, gang recruitment and violence. When he took over at Brainerd, it was one of the most troubled schools in the county.
Brainerd now has the hallmark of an inner-city school, mostly black, mostly poor, many students without two parents at home.
Mr Joynes wonders how many of them have parents telling them that something is expected of them.
His students dont see people coming out of their neighbourhoods and making it very far.
They dont expect to live very long, said the principal, who estimates that only five percent of the schools parents are involved with their children on a daily basis.
Of the 636 students, only about 35 parents bother to attend meetings at the school.
The schools graduation rate dropped from the high 60s a decade ago to 55 percent last year.
This year, although the test scores and graduation rates may not show it, Brainerd hopes to see signs of improvement.
The word around the school is the principal is serious about cleaning things up. The school has weeded out 40 of the most dangerous gang members in the last couple of years, and students have said they feel safer.
The root of the problem is what happens in the home, Mr Joynes said, pointing to generations of poverty.
They have nothing to aspire to and when you have hundreds of children growing up at the same time, living in the same housing projects, they teach each other how to be criminals. The gang starts showing interest in them and shows them love — the thing that the kids are missing the most. They say, well take care of you, weve got your back, nobody will bother you, were there for you and then they say to them we need you to make some money, go sell some drugs.
Mr Joynes is in his office every day at 6am. On a typical day, he is still there at 5.30pm.
He accepts that many of the students wont get his message but hopes that his belief in them will make a difference.
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