Last school year was a tumultuous one at Hamilton High School. There were reports of improper grade changes by the former principal, who was later suspended by Shelby County Schools (SCS). Students walked out in protest.
But, that was then. This is now.
There are the usual sights and sounds of students in the hall, but they are moving quickly to their next class. As they pass each other, some greet friends with a high five, or a “See you at lunch.” Some are waiting in the gym to have schedule conflicts resolved.
You can see Hamilton’s new principal James Q. Bacchus coming down the hall a mile away. Armed with a walkie-talkie and a warm smile, he brings a calming air with his presence. His voice is soft, but resolute. It rings of kindness.
Inside the office, a girl walks in. She has on khaki shorts, footies, and a pair of house shoes that are clearly too large for her. Her hair is tied up in a purple rag, and in soft, almost inaudible tones, she speaks to a female office worker. One lady puts an arm around the girl’s shoulder with a word of help and hope.
“Don’t stay home just because you don’t have a uniform or shoes,” she told the girl. “You come on to school. Whatever you need, we will make sure you get it.”
Bacchus said when he interviewed teachers, he had one specific question for them: “What do you want to do besides teach?”
Each of us must take on personal responsibility for the well-being of our children, said Bacchus. “It is so much more than just teaching in a classroom.”
Among the challenges at Hamilton: All the students are eligible for reduced lunch – meaning they each come from a household that receives some kind of assistance, food stamps and social services.
“School must be a place of consistency, a safe haven, even if home is not,” Bacchus said. “Our teachers must be cognizant of these children and their needs.”
Jordyn M. Davis is a cheerleader and member of the student council, and she’s already claiming that this school year is going to be “the absolute best.” The senior wants to do well on the ACT so she can attend Tennessee State University next fall.
“Some of my cousins and other relatives attended TSU, and I plan to go there,” she said. “I know this is going to be a great school year.”
Montavious D. Dean is senior class president and one to watch in future politics. He’s interested in education and law enforcement, but you just might see his name on a ballot.
“If there is change needed in our government, I may have to enter politics to get involved,” he said. “Whatever choices I make for my life, I feel that I am getting the preparation I will need to be successful in the future.”
The fact that many of his students have that kind of vision for their lives is a payoff for Bacchus, who first retired in 2011.
“I just wanted to come over and see how I could help,” he said. “The senior class had seen four principals (in four years). They needed to see some stability here.
“I want to help each student see a vision for themselves, work, a career,” he continued. “We want them to figure out what their place is in the world. I feel that I am serving where I should be at this point in my life.”