Written by William Bryant Rozier
The June 21, 2018 board meeting for Thurgood Marshall Leadership Academy might be marked as a seminal moment in the school’s development, an evening that could be observed as a necessary turning point.
Parents, teachers and former teachers addressed enough doubt about the leadership of its then principal, Mr. Harold Stevens, to make the school board members re-evaluate the academy’s core philosophies, said Thurgood Marshall School Board President, Sheila Dufor.
“We weren’t aware of a lot of complaints [presented at the meeting],” she said. The board president noted communication as one of the school board’s areas of weakness.
“Our teachers said that the board hasn’t been visible [enough]. They [also] didn’t understand the role of the board of directors,” Dufor said. “We want [our teachers] to feel like they have a voice,” Dufor said.
In the future, according to Dufor, the board needs to know and address concerns from teachers and parents before problems escalate like in the scene witnessed at the June 21 meeting.
The tenor of Dufor’s responses exemplified the need for change.
During their next board meeting at the end of July, Thurgood’s board of directors voted unanimously not to renew the contract for Principal Stevens.
Contracts at Thurgood Marshall, for faculty and its principal, are evaluated every year.
The board also chose to retain their relationship with AQS, the Chicago-based company that manages the charter school and was responsible for hiring Stevens. The construction of an interim contract is currently in progress.
Change was also exemplified by the academy’s move from their old location on Hanna Street to their new location at 7910 South Anthony Blvd, in the Come As You Are Church facility. Needed repairs at the old Zion Lutheran Grade School location proved too “unrealistic” for the board to take on, according to Dufor.
The first day of school on April 15 was prefaced with an open house celebration the day before, with bouncy houses out front, and an invitation for current and prospective parents and students to tour the new building.
Enrollment for the K through 6th Grade school is still open.
Shadwaynn Curry, who was previously Thurgood Marshall’s curriculum director, was picked to be the school’s interim principal. Curry has also worked for the Fort Wayne Community Schools as an assistant principal.
“We don’t want to jump out and hire someone off the bat,” Dufor said, but “certainly, we are looking at her as a potential [principal] for the school as well as opening it up to [other candidates.]”
Dufor also expressed a wish for the school to return to its original ideology embedded in the lore of the academy’s namesake. Thurgood Marshall, our nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice and one of the lead attorneys on the Brown vs. Board of Education case that integrated schools nationwide, was once a kid with discipline issues who was made to memorize the constitution as a punishment.
The juxtaposition of a troubled kid who ascended to the highest heights of the judicial system, was why Jonathon Ray, former Urban League director, wanted to name the academy Thurgood Marshall, according to Dufor.
The board president sees a similar potential in Thurgood’s students. “With the kind of impact you can have on kids, you just never know which one will turn around and become the next Barack Obama.”
Under Principal Stevens, Thurgood Marshall’s test scores did improve. “That was something we felt really good about with Mr. Stevens,” Dufor said. “But we want them to do better.”