"No exceptions and no excuses.” It applies to everyone at Maggie Brown Middle School – even Principal Ahmand Tinker.
“If I’m not getting the job done, it rolls down to the staff, the kids and the parents,” said Tinker, who currently oversees 35 students and a staff of nine at Maggie Brown, the Coweta County School System’s alternative middle school.
Students come from a variety of backgrounds, each with a different story about how they ended up at Maggie Brown. Despite their different stories, they all have at least one thing in common: they needed a new crowd.
When students aren’t thriving or learning well at traditional schools, they often are referred to an alternative program. Alternative schools specialize in using varied and creative ways to teach academic material, and teaching methods are typically more individualized. Maggie Brown is not a place where “bad kids” are sent, Tinker said, but a second-chance middle school.
“Our goal is to empower them in life to be successful,” he said. “A lot of times, these kids have other things going on in their lives. If they make a mistake, which we all do, they get a second chance here.”
Restoration, not rehabilitation
It’s a restorative program, Tinker said – “rehabilitation” is a bad word in these parts – that allows students to regain a sense of pride and dignity. They are referred for a period of time, usually from nine to 18 weeks, but sometimes for an entire school year. It depends on the gravity of their mistakes.
Things immediately change for students at Maggie Brown, beginning with the school uniform. Coweta County schools follow basic dress codes, but Maggie Brown students are required to wear dark slacks and white polo shirts, mostly provided by Communities in Schools to ensure all students can afford the proper clothing.
They are transported to the school from all over the county by bus drivers who make the trip before and after their regular routes, because Maggie Brown students cannot ride alongside “regular” schoolchildren, and attend one of two sessions – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., or 1-4 p.m.
When the motley crew of morning students shuffles in, starkly contrasting the glowing hardwood and old-fashioned design of the 1935 brick schoolhouse in downtown Newnan, they form a line outside the old double entrance doors.
One by one, they enter, and their first encounter is usually with Lequincy Shepherd – a formidable ex-Marine who who wields a metal detector wand and fires off questions and comments as he straightens collars, ensures shirts are tucked in and otherwise welcomes them.
“Button that top button up and look good,” Shepherd says.
Each student recites the school’s “no exceptions, no excuses” motto to start their day.
It’s a completely new environment for most of them. Until now, they have attended one of the school system’s six “base” middle schools – large and modern – where students in grades 6-8 are offered plenty of extracurriculars… and, of course, distractions.
At Maggie Brown, they shuffle between the six sunny classrooms of the old building with the school’s seven teachers, who offer grade-level instruction in math, social studies, science and English/language arts.
Still, there is a positive atmosphere, the beginning of an attempt to change the attitudes of those within and outside the walls of Maggie Brown Middle School about what actually can be accomplished here. Above the other-era rows of coat hooks that still line the hallways of the tiny school, there are posters and bulletin boards full of affirmations and uplifting messages and reminders.
“Successful students empowered for life!” “High expectations produce high achievements!”
There are reminders about behavior and respect, and a list of goals: Stay focused. Take responsibility. Respect everyone. Inspire others. Value education. Expect success.
It’s all part of a deliberate campaign by Tinker, who created a school logo and insists on the use of the name Maggie Brown Middle School instead of “the alternative middle school.” He brings in a different motivational speaker every Friday to inspire his students.
“We may be small in numbers, but our students are the best of the best,” Tinker said. “We are THE Maggie Brown Middle School. This is a school, 100 percent.”
Finding his stride
Growing up, Tinker was a star athlete from a single-parent home who “wasn’t always the best kid.” He talks about his journey to Maggie Brown from his tiny office, which is lined with diplomas and certificates, as he simultaneously works on a new Donor’s Choice request – this one for computer headsets. The first one, he said, met a fundraising goal for a basketball goal in under 24 hours.
He knows a thing or two about how involvement in sports can change a life. In fact, he and Shepherd were football teammates at LaGrange High School – one reason the two are working together at Maggie Brown.
“My coaches took an interest and invested in me,” said Tinker, who currently serves as executive director of the Minority Coaches of Georgia organization. “I loved football, and it had a very positive impact on me.”
After a false start studying pre-law in college – “I got up and walked out,” he admitted – Tinker earned a history degree from Valdosta State University. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Troy University and an educational specialist degree from Columbus State.
Tinker coached college and high school football from 1997 until 2013, and in 2014, he left the gridiron for the high school hallways. He served as assistant principal at East Coweta High School before taking over the helm of Maggie Brown this year.
He draws inspiration not only from his coaches but from his history teacher, who he said equally influenced his current approach.
“I call myself a bridge-builder,” he said. “I wouldn’t change anything I’m doing. I love impacting students and teachers every single day.”
‘Send them back better’
Three students “graduated” from Maggie Brown last term, and Tinker said he expects the majority of his current students will be back at their base schools by the first of the year. However, “business will be booming” as the school year progresses, so there will be plenty of new opportunities to impact students.
“Our goal is to send them back better than when we got them,” Tinker said.
Students from Maggie Brown continue to receive checkups and intervention after they return to their base schools, with regular meetings between staff from both schools, school system officials and families. That helps ensure no returning customers, Tinker said.
“We have a transition program that addresses how we can keep students from coming back,” he said.
But while they’re at Maggie Brown Middle School, they will have the very best, Tinker said.
“No matter what they’ve done, they’re still 11- to 14-year-old kids who have made a mistake,” he said. “They still deserve all the same things as every other kid.”
October is National Principals Month, and Newnan Times-Herald reporter Rebecca Leftwich headed back to class for a look at what it takes to run a Coweta County school.
For the second in a series of three stories, Leftwich spent part of a school day with Principal Ahmand Tinker of Maggie Brown Middle School. She followed along with Tinker as he went about his daily routine in and around the historic 1935 brick schoolhouse, which currently is the home of 35 students in grades 6-8.
Maggie Brown serves as the Coweta County School System’s alternative middle school, a program Tinker calls the “second-chance middle school.”