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Hamilton students demonstrate resolve with walkout

by Karanja A. Ajanaku

Special to The New Tri-State Defender

Twenty years into the future, when the students now at Hamilton High School are 35, 36, 37 and 38 years old, there is a good chance they will remember with some vividness the action that took place there on Tuesday, April 22.

Some will likely retain more of the details than others, especially members of the student leadership team that organized members of the student body to show their support for outgoing Principal Curtis Weathers, who will not be returning next school year – a choice that is not his own.

Reflecting an orderliness one might associate with a marching band, students with signed permission slips from parents and guardians filed out of the cavernous building at 1363 Person in South Memphis with books in hand and serious business on their minds. Some carried signs that read, “LOVE HAMILTON,” Honk 4 Hamilton” and “We are the FUTURE!”

“We learned more than we ever have this year,” said Zipporah Bunting, a leadership team member. “How would you feel if whoever is over you just keep switching up, changing over and over? You wouldn’t like that. That’s how we feel. We want someone who is strong and steady; stand tall behind our back.”

The students say they had their man in Weathers, the longtime head of the Memphis Academy of Health Sciences before being handed the reigns at Hamilton in 2014. Weathers, a former professional football player who matriculated through the old Memphis City Schools system, was not licensed and his waiver to function as principal beyond the current school year became void when the Republican-dominated legislature changed the rules for so-called “traditional public schools.”

An educator for 15 years, Weathers envisioned Hamilton as a charter-operated school with the flexibility to make moves that he thinks is necessary to get the historically African-American high school out of the pack of schools deemed low performers. He had a considerable amount of work to do to get the support of Hamilton alumni and parents, judging from a recent meeting he called to talk about the matter.

Undaunted, he had hoped to meet the challenge but encountered some administrative pushback at the school board level that left him with no room to maneuver to get the faculty support necessary to file a valid charter application.

And while a school board administrator publicly made the point that many students did not know about Weathers’ waiver situation before stepping up to voice their concerns about the pending changeover, Caleb Fair was one of the students that took issue with that assertion.

A member of the leadership team, Fair said, “We did know that he had a waiver that would keep him here for about three years. We wanted to know why did he have to leave so soon. They (school board administrators) tried to explain to us like we were a little slow or like we were little kids and didn’t understand. But we understood everything they were saying.”

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