Just like Dr. Martin Luther King believed in his “I have a Dream” speech over a half a century ago, the Middle School in Beaumont, Texas that bears his name is striving to make things better for its students.MLK Middle School Principal Julia Rich is starting to climb that mountain and making strides step by step.
“When I think of vision, I see it in two different ways. There’s short term and long term. In short term I would think of the school year, and my vision for the school year is we not only show Beaumont what’s possible, but we also show Texas what’s possible”, said Rich.
The Middle School had been struggling to meet academic standards in the past few years, which led to a partnership between the Beaumont Independent School District and Green Dot Public Schools in 2020. In the eyes of Principal Rich, this change opened a window of hope for the community and the more than 600 students of the area.
“ My visions for kids and families and teachers is that we hold on to that hope and that it gets better and that the longer we’re here and the more consistent we are... the more we show up every day with love and the more we show up with the belief that things get better, hope links itself to it,” explains Rich.
Taking the first steps
Change is already in the air at MLK Middle School. As part of the revitalization program put in place by Green Dot, the campus underwent a much-needed facelift and the positive messages from figures like Dr. King and poet Maya Angelou are now part of the everyday environment.
“We are always assessing our building to see what we can do, how we can alter, how we can change our appearance, as to make it learner friendly,” adds Principal Rich. “We saw a lot of space and opportunity. We’ve been putting up murals, we have three main murals, one in each grade level area, that focus on Dr. King’s message. We have our new King logo on our second floor. We have Maya Angelou, Malcolm X and we have quotes around our building so it’s really important that we show artwork, and we show visuals that represent what our main message is. But we also seek to capture what we know kids need to be able to achieve what our mission is, that is to prepare students for college and life.”
The Green Dot team came up with some immediate effective solutions for one of the main problems: student suspensions. One of the first academic steps taken was lessen the suspensions in order for the students not to miss school, while counseling them on how to avoid any future disciplinary actions
“One of the things that I’m most proud that we’ve been able to do is implement a restorative justice program here where students are not just suspended for walking out of a class, they are actually sent to a space that we refer to as the restorative justice or reset room where they are able to reflect on the decisions that they made in creating a path forward to be better. I would already say that we are on a path that is going to lead to create an environment where academic success can occur,” said Rich.
“I always think that if you can change and alter the climate and culture of a school, academics follow.”
Change brings positive results
So far, these changes are producing positive results. As part of the academic year, students are assessed three times during a school year: at the beginning of the school year, another one in winter and a third time in spring.
The results are encouraging, leading Principal Rich to feel extremely positive in the revitalization process. She expects to move MILK Middle School from an ‘F’ School rating to a ‘C’ rating in three years or less or maybe rank higher.
“So far we have nearly half of students in all grade levels on track and already meeting their progress goals already”, said Principal Rich. “So, I told teachers when we had our last professional development day, I told them ‘think about it with more intentionality, strive for stronger engagement in class.’ What we could do to that number, we could double it, we could triple it.”
Principal Rich’s commitment extends beyond the classroom. After living in Houston, where she was Assistant Principal at a charter school in that city, she moved into the community, where she shops and patrons the same businesses as her students and their parents.
“I would say my relationship is rooted with respect. I don’t believe in being able to come into a community and just making judgements. Because the reality is, before I started here, there were people here who had their opinions, but I honestly came here focused on the task and job that needs to be done,” she proudly adds.
As the revitalization process continues, Principal Rich has a very personal dream she would like to see in the not-so-distant future.
“Long term, years down the road, my ultimate vision is that I’d love to have one of the kids that we have in our building now, come back and be principal. Why not? You know how awesome that would be that we have a student that 10 years down the road, 15 years down the road comes back to where they started his experience in sixth grade and that they are the principal of the school. To me that would be to see the seeds that you plant now really turning into fruit,” said Rich.