‘Operation Transformation’ underway at Philo-Hill

Photo by Tevin Stinson– Students at Philo-Hill Magnet Academy and members of the “Magnificent 8” pose for a photo with Principal Dr. Essie McKoy, Bobby Kimbrough, and Michael Weaks on Monday, May 22.

‘Operation  Transformation’  underway at Philo-Hill
May 25
05:00 2017

When Dr. Essie McKoy decided to take the reins of Philo-Hill Magnet Academy at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, she had one goal on her mind: change. Although still in the early stages, “Operation Transformation” is well underway at one of the state’s lowest performing schools.

“It’s a journey but I believe in whole school, whole child and whole educator impact. It takes a team in order to make the dream work,” said McKoy. “I’ve had a lot of experience making an impact with the children who need us most and it is so critical that we work together.”

To help the transformation process at Philo-Hill, one of 11 “priority schools” in the district targeted for reform, McKoy enlisted the help of several community organizations, local churches and individuals to help turn things around at the school that has a population of 80 percent minority students. Since her arrival last fall, McKoy and staff have started 10 new mentoring programs that help students make better decisions in the classroom and in life.

McKoy said the programs have helped faculty build a bond with students.

“It is amazing to see the connections that we have with our kids. When I first got here, kids didn’t even speak, now it’s, ‘Good morning Dr. McKoy, how are you today?’” she said. “We just want to continue to have a close relationship with our students so they know they can be successful and we tell them that every single day.”

One mentoring program that has caught McKoy’s eye is led by none other than the “Men in Black.” Not to be confused with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones who battled aliens in the blockbuster film series, the Philo-Hill edition is in the business of putting a stopper in the school-to-prison pipeline. The duo of former law enforcement officers Bobby Kimbrough and Michael Weaks earned their name from the suits they wear to the school every day and together they mentor a group of young men known as the “Magnificent 8.”  When Kimbrough first came to the school he worked with 8th graders on emotional and social skills but, it wasn’t long before McKoy gave Kimbrough the challenge of having a small group of students of his own. After he accepted the challenge, Kimbrough called for backup and his longtime friend Michael Weaks answered the call.

Kimbrough said although he didn’t have plans for teaching in his retirement plans, he is grateful that Dr. McKoy and Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory gave him the opportunity.

“At first I said no, but I thought about it and I said how could I not come back to the community where I was educated?” said Kimbrough. “I can relate to them. I understand their struggles and some of the things they deal with every day when they leave school.”

Weaks said, “When he called me with this opportunity I jumped at the opportunity, to make a difference. A lot of these students don’t have that positive image or role model they need, so to be able to come out here and possiblychange somebody’s life feels great.”

When they first met their group of students, Kimbrough and Weaks said they were known throughout the school for all the wrong reasons. Fast forward six months and the group of young men who were known for causing the most disruptions have become model students. Throughout the school day, tutors and teachers at the school sit down with the “Magnificent 8” to go over lessons in the core subjects like math, English, and social studies. The small classroom setting allows the students to get the extra assistance from teachers they may need.  Outside the classroom, twice a month the group goes on field trips to college campuses in the area.

“I think it’s done wonders for the students to see someone who look likes them. They have helped me as well. They keep me youthful and up to date on all the new slang,” Kimbrough laughed.

Earlier this week, several members of the “Magnificent 8” sat down with The Chronicle to discuss the past school year they’ve had with Mr. Kimbrough and Mr. Weaks. Eighth-grader Kelcy Craft said he has seen his grades improve and now understands the importance of education.

Craft said, “Mr. Kimbrough and Mr. Weaks have helped me get my mindset right. They’ve helped my grades improve and gave me the confidence to be successful in life.”

Eight-grader Juan Sanchez said with the help of his new mentors, cannow  do a lot of school work that he didn’t understand before.

Although she is excited about the progress the students have made in just one school year, McKoy said, “This is only the beginning.”

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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