What is LEAD Fairfax? An Overview by Nardos King

Nardos King, an education leader, works as the Principal of Mount Vernon High School. As the Principal, she has been praised for her ability to motivate students, establishing programs like 30/30 to assist struggling sophomores, and Men of Vision and Purpose, which helps students develop leadership skills, raise their academic achievement, and counter negative perceptions of black males. In addition to her responsibilities in the daily operation of Mount Vernon High School, King has also served as a LEAD Fairfax AP Cohort Member.

LEAD Fairfax’s mission is to improve student achievement through developing and supporting leaders in education through an education leadership program. Their belief is that change is a process that starts with the school’s leader before it is able to spread to the school system and lead to the academic achievement of all of the students. Therefore, LEAD Fairfax developed a three-year program that begins with professional development sessions in the first year, building leadership at the school in the second year, and impacting the school system in the third year. To evaluate whether the program administered by LEAD Fairfax is successful in improving student achievement, independent evaluations are performed by the Office of Program Evaluation and annual reports are given to the Fairfax County Superintendent, the School Board, and The Wallace Foundation, the source of funding for LEAD Fairfax.

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Negative Perceptions and the Black Male Student Experience

Negative perceptions about historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) may draw gifted black male students away from such institutions, according to a report released earlier this year.

The report, authored by Shaun Harper at the University of Pennsylvania, offered clues to the black male student experience. A majority of the study’s respondents said they chose to attend HBCUs because of the schools’ reputations as nurturers of black educational attainments. Interestingly, many students who had been also accepted to predominantly white institutions had been dissuaded from attending HBCUs by white counselors at these institutions. The counselors said attendance at HBCUs would negatively affect student careers.

The problem with such pronouncements seems to be one of perception. A 1999 study found that black teachers are more liable to cast black male students in a positive light as compared to their white peers. The study said these instructors are more likely to describe their students as “intellectually gifted” or use positive language to describe their achievements.

However, at some institutions, positive image reinforcement starts in high school. The principal of Mount Vernon High School in Virginia, Nardos King, has established a program called Men of Vision and Purpose (MVP). The program puts 62 black students in a leadership class to develop their skills and raise academic achievement levels. Principal Nardos King says she hopes to counter negative perceptions about black male students through this program.

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Nardos King on Book Clubs and Student Engagement

Nardos King serves as Principal for Mount Vernon High School in Alexandria Virginia, and has widely praised for her focus on engaging and motivating students.

At the 2012 Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy at Virginia Tech, researchers discussed how book clubs could increase student engagement at the collegiate level. The researchers broke students into small groups and assigned books that were related to the course, rather than textbooks. Students had to meet with their groups every week, write journal entries about their reaction to the week’s chapter, develop discussion questions, create written answers as a team, and finally make a group presentation on their book. College students in courses that used this book club format reported that they enjoyed higher levels of comprehension, engagement, and enjoyment of the source material students than they had ever experienced in traditional college classes.

As an avid book club member, I wonder if such an approach would work for high school students. For instance, a biology class studying cancer or cell biology could also read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, which discusses the origins of the cells we use for research, and the life of the woman who donated those cells. A history class studying the era after the civil war might read “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President,” to help them understand the Garfield assassination. These book clubs could help our students achieve so much more, all while helping them develop both a love for reading and greater critical thinking skills.

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