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School exec returns to roots

He had worked 24 years as a teacher, curriculum specialist, assistant principal and principal, and now he was an assistant area superintendent in the largest of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' learning communities.

So why would Ron Dixon give up his CMS administrator's position to become principal at one of the system's most troubled middle schools?

“I guess I reached a point in my life when I started sorting things out,” said Dixon, 45.

That is why Dixon gave up his job as executive director, or assistant area superintendent, and became principal at J.T. Williams Middle School.

Make that John Taylor Williams Middle School.

“That was something we changed when I got here,” Dixon said one morning last month, sitting in his office at the north Charlotte school where he became principal in April.

A large portrait of Williams hangs on the wall in the office of the school, near the intersection of Interstates 77 and 85. Dixon rattled off a quick biography of the man for whom the school was named.

“He was one of the first licensed black doctors in the country, was elected to Charlotte's City Council from 1889 to 1891, and was named consul (ambassador) to Sierra Leone in 1898,” Dixon said. “That's a legacy that should be honored.”

Dixon's move to John Taylor Williams Middle began last winter, when he and Central Learning Community Area Superintendent Joel Ritchie were interviewing candidates for the vacant principal's position.

“I remember when it happened – on Feb. 12,” Dixon said.

“When I left that meeting with a candidate, I told Joel, ‘I'd like to put my hat into contention.' I'd been thinking about it, and I decided it was something I wanted to do.”

John Taylor Williams Middle is not one of the CMS Achievement Zone schools, for the system's lowest-performing group. But it could be.

In the recent state writing test, only 35.8 percent of the school's students scored at or above grade level. Of the 20 CMS middle schools, only three scored lower. Williams Middle students have been near the bottom in test scores for several years. More than 91 percent of the students received free or reduced-price lunches, a federal measure of poverty.

“I don't buy into the theory that kids from low-income neighborhoods can't succeed,” Dixon said. “I'm back in the part of the city where I grew up. It's like being back home.”

Dixon didn't come into the position wide-eyed.

“As executive director, I had access to the school's information,” he said. “I knew what was going on.”

Dixon and Ritchie started by interviewing each member of the faculty, to make sure they were as eager as Dixon was to make a change. Nine faculty members of about 70 on the staff were replaced.

Dixon made other changes.

He altered the class schedule, so students begin the day with one of their core academic classes, rather than physical education or an elective.

He beefed up the AVID program, which provides middle-of-the-road students with academic tools that aim them toward college.

“Many of these will be first-generation college students,” Dixon said.

He also revamped the academics for students in the Exceptional Children's program, which makes up about 20 percent of the school's enrollment of 600. And he strengthened the behavior plan.

“I want to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he said, adding that students who get in trouble will go through academic boot camp.

“And I believe that if you expect the kids to do something, show them what needs to be done,” he said. “I expect the kids to be polite, but I also expect the staff to treat the kids with courtesy.”

He had worked 24 years as a teacher, curriculum specialist, assistant principal and principal, and now he was an assistant area superintendent in the largest of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools' learning communities.

So why would Ron Dixon give up his CMS administrator's position to become principal at one of the system's most troubled middle schools?

“I guess I reached a point in my life when I started sorting things out,” said Dixon, 45.

That is why Dixon gave up his job as executive director, or assistant area superintendent, and became principal at J.T. Williams Middle School.

Make that John Taylor Williams Middle School.

“That was something we changed when I got here,” Dixon said one morning last month, sitting in his office at the north Charlotte school where he became principal in April.

A large portrait of Williams hangs on the wall in the office of the school, near the intersection of Interstates 77 and 85. Dixon rattled off a quick biography of the man for whom the school was named.

“He was one of the first licensed black doctors in the country, was elected to Charlotte's City Council from 1889 to 1891, and was named consul (ambassador) to Sierra Leone in 1898,” Dixon said. “That's a legacy that should be honored.”

Dixon's move to John Taylor Williams Middle began last winter, when he and Central Learning Community Area Superintendent Joel Ritchie were interviewing candidates for the vacant principal's position.

“I remember when it happened – on Feb. 12,” Dixon said.

“When I left that meeting with a candidate, I told Joel, ‘I'd like to put my hat into contention.' I'd been thinking about it, and I decided it was something I wanted to do.”

John Taylor Williams Middle is not one of the CMS Achievement Zone schools, for the system's lowest-performing group. But it could be.

In the recent state writing test, only 35.8 percent of the school's students scored at or above grade level. Of the 20 CMS middle schools, only three scored lower. Williams Middle students have been near the bottom in test scores for several years. More than 91 percent of the students received free or reduced-price lunches, a federal measure of poverty.

“I don't buy into the theory that kids from low-income neighborhoods can't succeed,” Dixon said. “I'm back in the part of the city where I grew up. It's like being back home.”

Dixon didn't come into the position wide-eyed.

“As executive director, I had access to the school's information,” he said. “I knew what was going on.”

Dixon and Ritchie started by interviewing each member of the faculty, to make sure they were as eager as Dixon was to make a change. Nine faculty members of about 70 on the staff were replaced.

Dixon made other changes.

He altered the class schedule, so students begin the day with one of their core academic classes, rather than physical education or an elective.

He beefed up the AVID program, which provides middle-of-the-road students with academic tools that aim them toward college.

“Many of these will be first-generation college students,” Dixon said.

He also revamped the academics for students in the Exceptional Children's program, which makes up about 20 percent of the school's enrollment of 600. And he strengthened the behavior plan.

“I want to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he said, adding that students who get in trouble will go through academic boot camp.

“And I believe that if you expect the kids to do something, show them what needs to be done,” he said. “I expect the kids to be polite, but I also expect the staff to treat the kids with courtesy.”

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